Friday, July 28, 2006

    Why You Be Hatin'?

    Andrew O'Hehir, working for, wrote a little review the other day of a book by Andrew Dalby. Things go along fine. O'Hehir offers up what, for him, seem to be the more academically salacious aspect of Darby's treatment of Homer's works: that "Homer" may have been a woman, that the works themselves may have been compositions collated from a long oral tradition, etc...

    Like I said, things went well until he published his review. Then came the comments.

    I like accuracy in writing, just as much as any other thinking person does. I don't want to waste my time reading crap...Although if I seek out the article, whose fault for crappiness is it?

    Anyway, the comments, found here
    immediately set out to point out exactly why the article should not have been written in the first place:

    * no news...others have said that the ancient authors have been women

    * Nagby from Harvard said it better and should be the final word

    * "Academics" not affiliated with a university are suspect even before they are considered...which means they shouldn't be, honestly, considered...oh the nerve of the untenured...

    and on and on...

    Really, though, if someone is taking an interesting in textual criticism, don't shout them down...the Classics have enough to compete with without Ivory Tower types pouncing on every perceived fault.

    It is like the English teacher who can't help correcting other people's grammar. It pisses everyone off to the point that the whole field is tainted by association.

    Rant done. Agree?

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

    FireFox Meme

    I know that the a lot of my posts reflect an interest in Eductional topics. But, today I am going to geek out.

    I am going to attempt to start a meme...

    Given my site traffic, I expect very low participation. Surprise me.

    FireFox Meme: what does your firefox browser look like? What extensions/toolbars do you use? I took this screenshot by opening all relevent toolbars and then shrinking the window to inlude only my blog title.

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Monday, July 24, 2006

    You got a graduate degree in what?

    Recent starting salaries (just one measure, I know, but an interesting one) for recent graduates (link) (link to info completely opposite of the below):

    Hospitality services management: Up 9.7 percent to $36,480

    Business administration/management: Up 6.3 percent to $42,048, thanks to investment banks that were paying an average of $53,277

    Accounting: Up 5.5 percent to $45,656

    Economics/finance: Up 5.1 percent to $45,112, again thanks to a high number of offers from investment banks and also financial services companies.

    Information sciences and systems: Up 8.5 percent to $48,593

    Civil engineering: Up 5.4 percent to $46,023

    Chemical engineering: Up 4.7 percent to $56,335, thanks to a large number of starting offers averaging $58,456 from petroleum and coal products manufacturers. Those manufacturers may also be responsible for the 12.3 percent jump in the starting salaries of those who majored in geology and related sciences. They are earning an average of $44,191.

    Computer engineering: Up 2.3 percent to $53,651

    Electrical engineering: Up 3.2 percent to $53,552

    Mechanical engineering: Up 3 percent to $51,732

    History: Up 3.1 percent to $32,697

    Psychology: Up 1.2 percent to $30,218

    Communications: Down 0.4 percent to $31,876

    Political science and government: Down 2.6 percent to $32,665

    Sociology: Down 2.7 percent to $30,944

    English: Down 4.1 percent to $30,906

    Guess what I majored in...

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

    The Business of Academics

    The Business of Academics is revealed in simmering plagiarism controversies. Simply stated, higher administration of academics shares more with business than with education. I know, your college or university is probably different, run by an old scholar who values academic integrity, research and good 'ole rigorous integrity. If so, good for you. Yours is the exception, not the rule.

    The rule, now, is that higher ed is run by and as a business. Gone are the days when old profs "moved" up through the ranks from Dean-dom to university President. It might still happen, but on the whole the president will more likely be a targeted businessperson who may or may not have academic experience: more MBA than PhD.

    This is not something I note that should be blindly accepted…that this trend is right or beneficial to academia at large. That is another post.

    What I am pointing out, though, is that stories like this one in Inside Higher Ed point to a growing cultural divide more than a disintegration of academic standards. [note: this article focuses on the controversy at one university, extrapolating a larger problem…I don't know if that is quite the case] Let me explain.

    Business looks at the written work far differently than academics. The latter sees an extension of his or her personhood: these are my thoughts, my work, my future, my integrity. Papers, articles, books, et. al. combine to form a body of work that moves one along to career success. Academics live and die by their individual work.

    Businesses live and die from producing product or services, and the better run smoothly by using as much of the already-produced work to further future work. That is, they "leverage" existing materials (written work is often called "content") in order to make present or future materials. For example, I have been an ERP trainer for much of my working career. I was, initially, appalled at the methods of producing training materials. As a starting consulting working for a Fortune 50 company, I was instructed to copy/paste the work of the software engineers, "cleaning up the language" only when needed. That is, I was not expected to produce original work as much as build on the work of others. Instead of the individual academic model, I was to adopt a corporate collective one. If I was doing my job well (with both time and effort), my materials would have little of "me" in them (voice, position, etc.) and have as much of the work of others as possible. Plus, you don't footnote or cite in business. As long as you are not stealing from your competition (and then it is only bad when you are caught), there is no expectation of originality.

    So, as higher admin are culled from and are embodying corporate culture, they will be "caught" "stealing" content.

    One set of examples from the article comes from Southern Illinois U. where, among other accusations, was that:

    University President Glenn Poshard, who oversees both campuses, copied almost verbatim the text of his predecessor’s online welcome page in his entry.

    The local academics were outraged and shocked! How dare the admin not produce original work…we, the professorate, all do. Nay, we are forced to produce original work to get a job, tenure, etc. A linguistics professor of unknown tenure-status, Joan Freidenberg, is complains, "When you are the chancellor or president of the university, you can’t plagiarize. Our business is words and ideas; we are judged by them" (as quoted in).

    Academics want the same standard of job performance they work under to be applicable to the ones above them. But that, given the current state, is unrealistic. There are two cultures at work here, and the academics would do well to realize this.

    I leave you with a quote that illustrates this point:

    "In many of the other form letters that the university uses, it is common for the names and titles to change, but for the content of the message to remain the same. Since university staff create these letters, we do not believe that this practice is improper,” [Michael] Ruiz [(a Southern Ill U. spokesman)] said in a statement.
    To add a nice wrinkle to the mix…EdBloggerNews links to a CNN story about a new web site where academics-teachers can sell their materials. If I buy a lecture, is it now mine?

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

    The Mighty Deciderer in Chief

    I recently stumbled upon the group blog leiterreports, where which I found some fun and heady stuff: anyone who blogs about Levi-Strauss deserves a blog-link from me.

    I took the picture you see from there.

    I am interested in the notion of group blogging. Crooked Timber and Three Quarks Daily are just two of the ones I lave Wizz RSS-ed into my Firefox browser.

    Both offer some interesting and engaging posts.

    Dear readers, do you have some group blogs to recommend?

    Do you group blog yourself? What of this animal called Poli-blogging...?

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Monday, July 17, 2006

    My Hometown

    My Hometown:

    Population: around 10, 000

    Gender: 52% male 48% female – census doesn't count "other"

    Age: 53% 16-24; 17% 25-44; 13% 15 or younger and a smatter of the rest. It is a college town.

    Race: 84% white; 11% African American or Black; less than one percent others.

    Education: 21% High School; 34% Associates; 18% BA/BS; 13% Master's, Professional or Doctorate

    Housing: 61% renter-occupied; 35% owner-occupied

    Income: Median household income: $20,192

    Marital status: Male, never married: 51%; female, never married: 43%; male, married with spouse: 18%; female, married with spouse: 18%

    Transportation: 2% public transportation; 74% car, truck or motorcycle; 19% walk.

    Did I say that mine is a college town?

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    Academic Envy

    Giving credit where credit is due to Moksha, the phrase pops up in Professor Zero's discussion of support for Nubian which in the comments mentions David Horowitz (I assume this one), writes that after obtaining a "terminal" MA, Horowitz contracted "Academic Envy."

    I am intrigued by this discussion on many levels. First, I hope that Nubian continues to write/post/blog as more voices mean more voices. (Note: a single voice can screech, a few melts into cacophony, but many voices create a roar.)

    Disclosure: I am more likely to read a woman's blog than a man's. I am not sure why. I find them more interesting I suppose. I pretty much know a man's take on a lot of things, but I often find a woman's intriguing when not inscrutable.

    Second, Dr. Diana, B*, Zero, etc. have all converged this last week in posting observations-complaints against the Patriarchy (they all used that word). While agreeing with them, almost to the letter, I also have begun to get self-conscious about my gendered reaction. That is, as a member of the privileged sect, how do I best react?

    I am poor and in debt. I therefore do not have a seat of economic power in which to perpetuate the oppression.

    I do, though, have more opportunity for fiscal empowerment than (O)thers, even if I specifically ether choose not to or fail to figure out how to maximize these opportunities.

    I have a wife and daughter (mom and sisters) to whom I seek to help (in understanding and action) their struggles with the present system.

    So I end up ambivalent at best. If I had money and power, would it be natural and easy for me to slide into the power-rut of oppression? I don't know. For me it is an academic question, which I speculate to my best advantage (of course I wouldn't perpetuate the Patriarchy…ooh, wait, if I had power and money, being white and male, then I would, ipso facto, be perpetuating the Patriarchy). Damn.

    So, while I am no way intended to belittle the fight to articulate the struggle of the people presented above, I do have to note that the poorer and indebtedness I get, the more I am, one person at a time, lessening the Patriarchy. :)

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

    Kids day at the fair

    Kids' day at the fair.

    The discount on armbands is only three dollars, but the lure works.  Kids' day was packed with over half of the public pool's swim class, swarming the rides with doting, sweating parents in tow.  Pookie was no different.  

    However, as we made our way down the midway, the chicken box dinner sitting rather heavy, it wasn't the stifling heat that got me, nor the flashbacks to adolescent, small-town desperation, but that living in this town was absolutely, resolutely Lovely Wife and my own decision.  And I am extremely happy in that.

    I am not happy that my "career" has stalled.  I am not happy that I have had to scramble for pidly adjunct jobs that dry up each new semester, or that my corporate consulting takes me away from house and home, or that combined the bills continue to win their guerilla war.  

    No, I am happy that Pookie has a confidence I have not seen before.  In Boston, for our one-year stint there, she was much shier and less confident.  Granted she was much younger as well, but I have to believe that she has grown more confident as she has integrated into a stable life.  Instead of fears of other dogs attacking ours on thrice-daily walks around the apartment complex, she goes to Papa's property and runs around an acre-sized garden.  Instead of sitting through a 45 minute, one-way commute, we can walk to school.  

    Walking through the fair, Pookie met up with 5 of her school-pool mates.  She also saw her grandparent's neighbors, friends of Lovely Wife's, or Grandma's or Papa's—all of whom stopped and talked with her.  In short, she met with and celebrated the fair with her own community.  Perhaps we would have created that in Boston as well, but not nearly so quickly and not nearly so deeply.  

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006


    I recently discovered the online database OAIster, housed at the U of MI. I am linking it to the right. It might actually help my lagging diss.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

    Notes from a small town: fair

    Notes from a small town: the fair

    [As an attempt to explore various modes of writing, I will write about the life around me, taking a break from the overtly educational, religious or political.]

    Callie [all names are fictional:  people real] is visiting from California.  They say that growing up she just didn't fit into the small town life, always thinking she was destined for something greater.  So, living in a mid-scale suburb of LA, she makes the pilgrimage back home every year or so to visit her mom.  This year her visit coincided with the annual county fair.  It is a clash much fun to watch.

    The local county fair is, undoubtedly, a kissing cousin to all of the other summer fairs in the Midwest.  The locals trot out their prized cows, beets, and unfortunate fashion innovations for a week of oil-drenched Elephant Ears, hormone-driven midways and stomach-churning Zippers and Himalayas.  It was through this menagerie that found Lovely Wife, Pookie and myself making our way, stroller in tow last night.  Hearing the fairgrounds call since Sunday (night of the figure-eight derby), we walked the ten blocks to the fairgrounds heeding the call of the tractor pull, announcer blaring the total lengths.  

    We arrived during the amateur pulls, consisting of actual John Deers pulled from the field and, risking a blown gasket, hitch to the pulling trailer and set off in a cloud of piston and smoke to some measure of farm-fair glory.  Pookie was terribly interested, attracted by the noise hidden behind the eight foot fence.  She was tempted away, though by the horses and pigs.

    We saw Callie at the beer tent (small, brick building actually but still called a tent from its humble origins) buying the only thing she would at the fair: a Coke.  She would not eat the Cheese Fries, Funnel Cakes or Keilbasa on a stick.  Her sister, married into the local towing, service station and junk-yard royalty, was busing munching away.  Callie and her sister are a study in opposites: Callie is overly thin and on her third augmentation; sis more plump than thin.  Both have kids with widely different futures.  

    With the grandstand noise moving from restored tractors to Modified professionals, we moved through the animal barns (promising to ride the rides come Wednesday or "kids day"—armband all-you-can-ride prices a little cheaper then) we finally found 12 year old Mandy and her one year old show pig.  Mandy was having trouble moving the pig from the bathing area back into the little show pen.  Armed with a green board to protect her legs, she was pushing and pulling the squealing pig to no avail: pig wanted to sit.  Pig would sit.  Pig would scream like death while it did so.  Attracting a small crowd of non-pig-raising folk, Mandy's embarrassment grew as her dad proceeded to pull the pig's ears in order to move it along.  Pig screamed more and, if possible, louder.  A helper appeared and pulling on the tail to the point of walking the pig wheelbarrow, they moved Pig into the pen.  Squealing finally stopped, and Pig ate.  Mandy nervously observed that Pig would rather sit than just about anything as she stood there in wet jeans and a half-wet shirt.  

    Pookie woke up, later that night, dreaming about screaming pigs.  She wondered why the men had to pull the ears and tail.  She was convinced that there was a nicer way to move the pig.  The tractors, by this point, had finally pulled their last and were quiet.  

    Tomorrow is kid's day.  I wonder if Callie will ride the rides.

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Monday, July 10, 2006

    Grade Inflation and Tenure II

    I will pull out from the comments on the Grade Inflation and Tenure post for a moment and recap the arguments--thanks for those who posted:

    · I initially linked fear of bad student evaluations to the rise of grade inflating practices--Profs, especially non-tenured, tt, or adjuncts make their life easier by grading easier.

    · Teri qualified that Research I schools look more toward research than student evals and that students don't take them seriously themselves.

    · I extended this by arguing that for Research I schools, maybe they shouldn't be used at all--yet by their continued use they must serve some function

    · Inside the Philosophy Factory further corroborated Teri's point about tenured faculty pointing out that at his institution tenured Profs don't give out evals. For non-tenured track, they are used for trend spotting. He then pointed out the practice of student/teacher non-aggression pact": a sort of quid-pro-quo for helping faculty and student to a better life.

    · I wondered in response to this "victimless" crime of grade inflation if business weren't picking up the tab for this practice.

    · Dean Dad brought an admin's perspective by encouraging the judicious use of contextualization in reading student evals. His being a CC perspective, evals are a vital tool in keeping tabs (necessary) on faculty teaching quality. He goes on to argue that evals are a vital and important means (offering some inferior examples) of collecting this quality-teaching data point.

    My initial posting, though, remains: that evals spur grade inflation. A few scenarios to ground this discussion:

    The "grunt" institution: with a percentage of tenured faculty, this level of school uses evals as a means of keeping tabs of the instructional quality. Fairness and contextualization are applied to their interpretation, allowing the poor teachers to be flagged for follow-up scrutiny.

    Students: they like to feel like they have a voice. They hear that instructor X was let go for poor teaching quality, but instructor Y and Z are still around. Unsure whether their voice is heard, but might take the opportunity to take the effort to comment if the teaching situation is bad enough. A select few actually commend good teaching through these.

    Instructors: they like to reduce the number and types of poor evals. Why? Few instructors are comfortable feeling like they are being poorly received. They also know that the more admin looks to others for scrutiny, the better their life is. One way to mitigate the possibility of "flags" is to go easier on the grades (see IPF's comment above). As an instructor, I know this pull intimately.

    The Research institution: with a focus on research, a large portion of tenured are allowed to forgo student evals. Those instances where evals are used are on the adjunct, tt and especially TA sections. Fairness and contextualization are applied to their interpretation, allowing the poor teachers to be flagged for follow-up scrutiny.

    Student: Knowing the game, they use the evals, when given, as a means of communicating with other students. Case in point, the graduate school of education at Harvard puts makes available its student evals. They are all right there in a book in the library. The smart student looks up a prof to get a flavor, by reading multiple sections, of the work level, grading practices and general flavor. With such a system in place, evals are taken seriously by enough students that a communication network—sort of a eval WIKI is established.

    Instructors: If tenured, know you are untouchable unless you commit a crime. Non-tenured know that good evals sooth only the ego, so put in context and move on. TA's hope that a good section eval might be used to garner more sections or other such student goodies.

    The question remains: are we happy with the use of evals? Is grade inflation just "one of those things" endemic with the system? Does academia really care about grade inflation, aside from a good article or toothless mandate here and there?

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Friday, July 07, 2006

    Grade inflation and tenure

    I argue that grade inflation is directly tied to the current state of tenure and adjuncting. It is in the direct interest of faculty to leave a given class with happy students. It makes everyone's lives much easier.

    How so? Deans and admins (Dean Dad can tell me if I am wrong on this), it is supposed, do not look at student evaluations for hiring. That is the going conventional wisdom. But few faculty believe that. Faculty, tt, tenured and adjunct alike, all feel in the back of their career that making a happy student will make for an easier life.

    And they are correct.

    Wise readers, am I wrong on this?

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Thursday, July 06, 2006

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

    Evidence of Pentagon Surveillance

    One of my first stops of the RSS day, my patriotic buzz was killed today by the Inside Higher Ed online feed with the following:

    "College officials are expressing concerns about a 400-page Department of Defense document that characterizes “threats” stemming from protests and demonstrations at institutions of higher education nationwide as either “credible or “not credible.” The document, which includes information on multiple protests at college campuses over the last year, has led to questions from officials at the monitored institutions over how the Pentagon has pursued its information."
    I am not as paranoid as I feel that I need to be. :)

    Seriously, though, the larger article outlines one DoD-er as stating that it should be no big is not like they have people going to the meetings or anything, a-la sixties infiltration. They just look to provide "dots" to connect later.

    Dissent is not an actionable reason to serveil.

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Tuesday, July 04, 2006

    Happy B-day USA

    In spite of the damage done the last six years, I still see great promise. Taking the long view, we have the right base, the right instincts.

    As the flag debate churnes through the Congress, I present this pic, taken from the State of Texas itself.

    Nothing so American as bad fashion, posed pictures or rich families summering at the East Coast.

    I hope this day finds you well, secure and cool.

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Saturday, July 01, 2006

    The future of TV

    The future of TV.

    What do Bill Maher and Jon Stewart have in common?  Only the future of entertainment.

    Overstated?  We'll see.  

    I don’t get to watch a lot of TV as it is produced.  In fact, I seldom if ever, lately, sit down and watch network TV: no American Idol, no Lost, none for me.  This wasn't always the case.

    Before marriage, which quickly moved into parenthood, I watched a lot of TV.  Although I liked to think I discriminated in the content, I really didn't.  I watched the good, bad and the ugly.  I remember taking a posterboard in college and mapping out the plot relationships  between the central characters on Twin Peaks (go log lady).  I was hooked on the TV.

    Something about the exhaustion of a newborn, though, kills the TV bug.  Living an immunized life, now, I have to be even more creative in my TV watching.  I am abetted by the move on cable to running an episode multiple times a day/week (think Monk on USA or Entourage on HBO).   With these instant re-runs, I can, occasionally, catch an episode—always after the fact and often weeks so.  And that is ok.  

    Comedy Central has reruns of segments of their shows on their web-video portal The Motherload where I can catch segments of Jon Stewart or Colbert without needing to stay up or watch.  This is more than ok…it is a gods-send.

    Bill Maher, having bounced from ABC to HBO is now on  Who knew?  A fully developed interview show that is broadcast completely on the net called Amazon Fishbowl.  The content seems ok, but the medium is what is really exciting.  Content exactly when I want it.  

    15 years after the promises of the net originating, finally some results.

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