Monday, June 30, 2014

Cult of Compliance - Arizona State Cops vs Ersula Ore

At the end of May, a black female professor named Ersula Ore at Arizona State University was walking across the street when she was arrested for jaywalking. By report, people cross at that site regularly to avoid construction and it is reasonably suspicious that a black woman was the person singled out by police.

She has been charged with a felony for kicking at him after she was flung to the ground. Police reviewed the file and said they did nothing wrong. There is a move-on petition (I have signed it). Here's a local article on the story as the case is being re-reviewed in the wake of viral social media response. Then Huffington Post and CNN. There's lots more.

I argue that along with race, which is central to the case I believe, we've got an example of the cult of compliance. We have made it possible to criminalize non-compliance. If you don't obey police, they can physically hurt you, and if you defend yourself, you get charged with attacking the police. This happens all the time across America, especially to non-white people, but we rarely hear about it. The stories that make the news often involve disability, as the disability functions to absolve the victim of police violence, or at least complicate the narrative. In this case, we hear about the story because it involves a professor the means to leverage social media outrage, to speak for herself, and because professor does still command some respect in American discourse. An average black woman harassed by police is not news, and the new would not cover it.

We also only hear about it because someone called 911 on the COP who was being too aggressive. I'm grateful to that person.

Here's the video. There's also dash-cam video now if you follow that link.

This is the cult of compliance. If she just complies, gives her ID, is nicely respectful, she probably just gets a citation. Stand up for your rights, even as a professor on your own campus, and this is what happens.

As always, we can do better.


We interrupt this blog to bring you a special announcement.

I am recording a live album with my band, The Tooles, this September. It will be all original music and we're really excited about it. It is, however, expensive, and so we have a kickstarter. If you like music, please check it out and consider supporting our project. Thank you.

Me, singing at the Kalamazoo Irish Festival
And now, back to your regularly scheduled blogging on language, power, and privilege.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sunday Roundup: Pro-Information and Girls and Science

I had three pieces this week that I thought were especially important.

First, I hosted a guest post by Nancy McCrea Iannone on the troubles of the Pro-Information law in Louisiana, where anti-abortion activists have hijacked what was an unusual, important, coalition.
  • I wrote about my own thoughts here in Pro-choice, Pro-Information, Anti-Eugenics.
  • Mark Leach has a key followup. Like the bill, the comment thread was hijacked by an anti-choice radical. It's precisely why I am skeptical the pro-information coalition can sustain. 
  • One more thought: I suspect making a discussion it illegal to discuss termination, will cause MORE eugenic abortions. It's analogous to me the way that anti-abortion radicals fight birth control and sex ed. Education is the way forward, not silencing.
Second, I reacted to a terrible Scientific American blog post in Girls and Science - Makers vs a Scientific American blogger.
  • Here's a good blog post on the ensuing kerfuffle, where Lee Billings, a very famous science journalist, told the women in the thread to stop "whining" on Twitter and take it to the comment thread. Which they had, in fact. And whoever controls the SciAm Blogs "favorited" Billings' tweet.
  • I thought the irony of the video to which I link appearing the same day as I became aware of the SciAm blog (it was published in April) was interesting, but am not really a science writer or in that community. Still, the notion that some famous male writer can try to control female discourse by using the "whining" word is appalling. Pro tip: Avoid whining and hysteria words when talking about gender.
Third, I wrote a new piece in the Chronicle on counting public engagement and offered a few thoughts on it here and here. In that second one, I ask whether it would be reasonable to take a sustained effort of successful, "impactful" public engagement and exchange it for one piece of peer-reviewed writing in a tenure and promotion portfolio?

Thanks for reading and sharing this week. Next week, I expect, will be more on violence against people with disabilities (sigh. It never stops).

Friday, June 27, 2014

Men want kids because privilege

I've been working on work-life issues lately, focusing on fathers and discourse around working dads.

This has led me back to an important piece by Amanda Hess from last year, important not only because of its argument but because of the rabbit hole of links and studies to which it leads.

Hess responds to the frustrating "have it all" debate and some numbers that suggest men are increasingly likely to "want it all" because for them, having a family doesn't seem to mean surrendering their career. She writes:
Men aren’t more “obsessed” with having it all. They don’t have to be. Pursuing a family and a career requires less professional sacrifice for men than it does for women, so it’s easier to claim to prioritize both in their definition of success. Men face fewer barriers to being both “family-oriented” and “ambitious.” They’re rarely even asked how they manage to juggle career with kids, so the question carries less weight—you don’t conceive of a contradiction if you’ve never been asked to choose.
What I like here is the focus on perception. It's not that men who do caregiving don't struggle in their careers - Hess in fact cites this piece by Bryce Covert to show that the opposite is true - but that men don't perceive the challenge of "having it all." Women, beset by the fraught category of working mom, know that trouble is coming if they try to do both. So many don't.

There are limits to what my focus on language can accomplish. Policy has to follow. Before we can get to policy, however, we have to change perceptions so we ask the right questions and come up with the best plans. That's why I keep talking about "working dads."

My Google results this morning for "working mom" = 1,100,000. "Working dad." = 124,000.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Girls and Science - Makers vs a Scientific American Blogger

So Verizon and Makers teamed up to make a great new video about the insidious ways that we push girls away from science.

I am always suspicious of corporations getting involved in social causes, as they tend to be followers rather than leaders. Still, Makers is pretty great and I think the video highlights some typical ways that we push girls away from science, math, and so forth.

The takeaway is that starting very early, mostly without meaning to, our society (and especially parents, but surely friends and school and media and commerce and so forth) lets girls know that their place is NOT in the lab or the workshop or the field. It's socially constructed, it may well not be intentional, but it works.

This conversation matters because, much to my surprise, the fundamental premises are still subject to debate. This morning I was alerted to a post on Scientific American blogs, in which a psychology doctoral student named Chris Martin wants you to know that women are just naturally not so scientific, at least not when we're talking about the super-duper-smart people. He invests in the Larry Summers argument because he wants to debunk Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who when asked about women in science, gave a smart answer about race and science by way of analogy.

Martin writes, with intense disciplinary snobbery to my reading:
Neil deGrasse Tyson responded to the question quite well, but since he’s not a social scientist, he wasn’t able to draw on psychological research on gender differences. His answer focused on stereotyping and self-fulfilling prophecy effect. I don’t blame him the slightest for lacking expertise in an area outside his specialty, but I do think people who only watch that video could come away with a misconception about the impact of stereotyping. I’m not going to discuss self-fulfilling prophecies here—they have a weak effect—but I will talk about how recent research has addressed this question.
Yes, Martin argues, there might be a weak effect of stereotyping, but really it's not such a big deal. The key, he argues, is that there are plenty of women in science, but they tend to be in biology and psych, and most of them do not "choose" to go into academic careers. Martin wonders why.

I am not going to quote more fully. At the end, he nods to the notion that stereotyping might have a tiny bit to do with why women don't become scientists, but mostly he makes claims that in the context of the Larry Summers debate have been well discredited. Yes, it's not impossible that there are evolutionary factors that have a tiny effect on career choice. It's not impossible. But as said on twitter (quoted with permission):
We've been through this before.

There's a place for a smartly argued thoughtfully nuanced piece on the ways that evolution may in fact shape certain kinds of gender difference. This is not that piece. This makes these bold confident truthy statements claiming that the matter is resolved, and this man will tell how it really is.

It wouldn't matter. Except that it is on Scientific American's blogs, a major forum, and I suspect it reflects the beliefs of countless people in positions of authority, people who hire, people who train, people who run labs.

Here's the deal I'll make.

Let's get rid of all the stereotyping, all the micro-aggressions that drive girls and women out of science, the social messaging that women who nurture are the only real women, that pretty matters more than smart. The phrases in the video are real, I hear them, I see them in our media. Let's beat those back, and then we can see where the evolutionary gender differences really take us.

Because these stereotypes run deep. Sometimes, I feel them coming out of my own mouth, directed at my daughter. She'll be wearing a pretty dress, she'll be heading for the mud, she'll be doing something that might be a bit dangerous, and I'll find my words telling her to stop. And I'll be appalled at myself.

Then, even if my daughter's wearing a pretty dress, I hand her a shovel and we go out and dig for worms. I would dig out the science kit and do an experiment with her, but it turns out ... her mother is a scientist.

I leave the hard science to mom. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

SUSTAINED (emphasis) Public Engagement, not just engagement.

Here are a few more points related to my article on public engagement - how it might work and what I mean by "there is no ivory tower."

1. How might it work?

No one is seriously advocating that an op-ed is equal to a piece of peer-reviewed scholarship. At least no one I know of. But I hear, as push-back, "Well, it's not like an op-ed is equal to a peer-reviewed article." Right!

This is why I emphasize "sustained." I actually think a single op-ed is not unlike writing a complex book review or encyclopedia article in terms of effort, and I'd be happy for one op-ed to count about as much as either of those. They are portfolio filler, they show a kind of engagement with the field and expertise, but they don't carry significant weight in hiring, tenure, or promotion decisions.

Sustained public engagement, whether via a regular column, a blog, community organizing, agricultural extension services or public history (for which the reward structures already work this way, as far as I know), is something else though. For example, would it be so wrong to take a tenure system requiring a book + 2 peer reviewed articles, and instead accept a book + 1 peer reviewed article + record of sustained pubic engagement?

I do believe that for most of us, our identity as academics depends on a record of specialized discipline-specific research, usually undergoing a blind peer review process (though I will be happy to critique peer review at a later point). This is as it should be. I just think that if someone is really committed to public engagement of whatever sort, one could develop a structure that substitutes some of the requirements for tenure with this other kind of activity.

We will need metrics, much as we have metrics for "good" or "impactful" (ugh) with scholarly publications. This is a doable challenge.

2. There is no Ivory Tower

There is an ivory tower, but it's not real. That's to say, the notion that academia is separated from "real life" is a mirage, but a mirage that some people cling to. I think it's a response to the anti-intellectualism that permeates American culture. We build these imagined walls, often fortified with snobbishness (that I encounter too often), as a defense mechanism.

What I don't want to do (and did in an earlier draft) is to denigrate specialized scholarship and call it "ivory tower."

3. Dear conservative commentator ...

From the Chronicle:

Robert Oscar López, a conservative commentator, wrote:
Don't overlook the problem with political bias. I contribute a huge amount to "civic engagement" but I am conservative, and my activism works to ensure that every child has a relationship with his mother and father, something that drives the homofascists into hysterics. I've published hundreds of articles and collaborated on research about the importance of children having a mom and dad, but I would have to be smoking crack to put any of that in my personnel file. The lesbians who run the our campus offices would just start hating me more than they already do. Part of me feels that this stuff shouldn't really count; you should have organic intellectual work as a truly altruistic pursuit that you do for the love of it.
I responded:
Robert - I find your language here offensive. There's no place for "homofascists" or the assumption that lesbians cannot recognize good work with which they disagree. As an academic, you of course already know that fascism in fact is about using state power to enforce a perceived normality - usually the man/woman norm in fact that you advocate for in your work - rather than a push for a more inclusive society. I'm pleased to stand with the inclusivists, personally, but the great thing about inclusion (rather than fascism) is that there is room for bigotry to thrive, be free, speak openly, get published, get tenure, and so forth. As opposed to fascism, where perceived deviant behavior suffers from state (and often private) action.
That said, I suspect you are using such language to troll the liberals who mostly post here, inviting venom, so that then you can engage in conservative victimization fantasies to justify your sense of grievance. I won't give you that out. Instead, let's take you seriously.
Your position is why having clear tenure and promotion standards matter. You build a structure in which you measure quality NOT by whether you agree with it politically, then apply those metrics across the board. In such context, impact and quality matter. You should be advocating for such measurements much more forcefully than I in order to protect not just yourself, who with your hundreds of articles must be doing fine, but the next generation of conservative academics who wish to engage with the public.
Good luck!
And with that, I'm done writing. It's time to start writing.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Sustained Public Engagement

I have a new piece up at the Chronicle on public engagement in higher education. I've written about public engagement both here and on various sites before, but now I am starting a series of columns for the advice/careers section of the Chronicle. I will be writing about how both individuals and institutions could be engaging and are engaging, and some of the lessons we might draw from this. Next month, for example, I will discuss Catholic universities and undocumented students.

This piece, however, has been in the making for months, especially with my response to Nicholas Kristof.

Here are the points I make today:
  1. First, academics of all sorts are already deeply engaged with the public in many different ways.
  2. Second, many universities explicitly recognize public engagement as a category that may count toward hiring, tenure, or promotion.
  3. Third, in the United States and in academe itself, the widespread perception is that most faculty members do not engage with the public—either because they don’t want to or because they know they won’t be rewarded for it.
If you read this blog, you knew point 1 already. Many of you are, in fact, the very evidence of point 1. Academics are already in public, not just as writers, but as organizers, activists, outreach coordinators, and so much more. 

Point two surprised me. I set out to write this column as a screed, to shout, "count this!" In fact, many universities have ways of counting it, though standards and types vary. 

Point three, then, is the conundrum. If one and two are true, shouldn't we all know it? What's going on? 

I think we have a problem of discourse. We somehow perpetuate the idea both that academics don't do public engagement and that specialized scholarship is useless to the broader world, neither of which is true, though they function very differently. 

Here are two steps I think we might take.
  1. Be smarter than me. What does your institution count?
  2. Start disciplinary conversations. I think this might be a great function for the MLA, AHA, AAR, CAA, etc. They have no power over institutions, but that's not the step here. The step is to persuade other faculty that we could do more to count and measure public engagement.
I finish with the following:
The myth of the ivory tower dismisses the public academic as an aberration and the specialized scholar as detached. Neither is true. But we do have a problem with how we define, count, and value many types of public engagement. If we can improve this and tear down the mythic tower, we can make sure that all of our varied but important types of work get the credit they deserve.
And now, the sources I cite in the piece.
  • Patricia Limerick, president of the Organization of American Historians, recently put out a call to locate scholars who do public work.
  • In response, Matthew G. Schoenbachler, professor of History at the University of North Alabama, wrote that all such efforts are just “pro bono - the entire academic system of incentives and rewards militates against such activities.”
  • My university includes “scholarship of engagement” as one of the types of scholarship that count for tenure or promotion, a phrase that emerged from the expansive taxonomy of scholarship pioneered by Ernest Boyer of the Carnegie Foundation. 
  • Syracuse employs the phrase “publicly engaged scholarship” in their tenure and promotion documents.
  • The University of Illinois uses “public engagement” and “public service,” recognizing the problem of categorizing diverse acts of engagement in our standard tenure and promotion framework.
  • Other universities categorize such activity solely as service. Portland State, for example, uses the phrase “community outreach.” 
  • Community colleges routinely link service to tenure and promotion, with the potential for that service to be outside the university. At the Central Oregon Community Colleges, for example, full professors will “regularly serve the community as an expert resource.”
  • Also, I link to this (now slightly outdated) study on shifting workloads.

Pro-choice, Pro-Information, Anti-Eugenics

Yesterday I published a guest post by Nancy McCrea Iannone, an expert on Down syndrome and pregnancy. I would like you, please, to go read it and share it. Independent blogs like mine need your help to spread the word on any given message.

The post talked about an assault on the pro-information coalition by anti-abortion activists and legislators in Louisiana. Pro-information stands for the many pro-life AND pro-choice people who have come together to try and change how the pre-natal diagnosis is being presented. We know that at least some of the very high percentage of terminations after a pre-natal diagnosis of Down syndrome take place after being told things that are either simply false or skew towards the negatives. We know that doctors deliver the diagnosis, then ask, "so would you like me to schedule a termination for you?" We know we can do this better, and we are, thanks to the efforts of so many.

It happens with post-natal diagnoses too. When Nico was born, in that terrifying and grief-stricken first hour, we were given a huge list of things that might possibly go wrong, This was, I know, merely medical due diligence, like the list of side-effects or complications that the doctors feel required to give you, but it skewed our early encounters with our baby in ways that took awhile to un-do. Fortunately, we had an actual living baby to care for, and cuddle, and get to know, and that made all the difference. In the absence of that child, in the pre-natal context, the negative overwhelms.

Hence, pro-information. It's a complicated position for a pro-choice man like me, because mandating information has become a tactic in the anti-abortion movement - the mandatory transvaginal ultrasound is proposed as an "information" procedure, though clearly it's meant to discourage women from having abortions rather than go through with the invasive procedure. It's also a complicated position for pro-life folks as ultimately they are hoping the woman chooses life, but they are acknowledging choice is part of the equation.

Here's the bottom line though on which (I think) we all agree: whatever information is provided in the context of the pre-natal diagnosis should actually be true and inclusive.

Can we all agree on that? Doctors should provide the whole picture to their best of their ability, representing the best current knowledge on life with Down syndrome and what it's like? If they don't, they are not in fact best serving the needs of their patients.

But one of those options is abortion. It's not the option I want people to choose. I am deeply worried about the eugenic strains that run deep in American culture and plan to do much more writing on the subject in the year to come. But it's one of the options. Laws that exclude that option, that criminalize that option, are not part of my movement.

The minute pro-information becomes a smoke-screen for anti-abortion activism, I am out.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

GUEST POST - Keep Abortion Politics Out of the Pro-Information Movement

Nancy McCrea Iannone argues that the new Louisiana law on pre-natal testing inserts abortion politics into what had been a non-partisan movement by forbidding health-care providers to present termination as a neutral or acceptable choice. 

Comments from David Perry on this post can be found here.

Pro-Life, Pro-Choice, Pro-Information: Proceed with Caution

by Nancy McCrea Iannone.

The Louisiana Legislature recently passed a law requiring health care providers to provide information to expectant parents receiving a Down syndrome diagnosis. While the law follows the positive and rising "pro-information" trend among the states, the Louisiana statute deviates from this trend significantly. Louisiana added a requirement that the information the Department of Health and Hospitals gives to health care providers, and which the providers are required to give out to patients, "cannot explicitly or implicitly present termination as a neutral or acceptable choice."

"Pro-information" is the word that many members of the Down syndrome community have used to describe the movement in support of expectant parents receiving accurate, balanced, and up-to-date information about Down syndrome after a prenatal diagnosis. The pro-information movement includes both pro-life and pro-choice members, united in the common mission of supporting and informing expectant parents.

Louisiana has taken an efficient, unifying model pro-information law and has tinkered with it, creating a situation which is more complicated for health care providers and potentially much worse for parents receiving a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. In the history of the pro-information movement, Louisiana's actions stand out as a major and harmful setback. Recent history provides the context for Louisiana's legislation as well as solutions for the problems this legislation creates.

Federal Law weakened and unfunded 

In 2007, two senators from opposite ends of the political spectrum introduced the "Kennedy Brownback bill," a pro-information bill. It required health care providers to provide up-to-date detailed information to parents receiving a prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis. Sometime after it unanimously passed the Health Committee, the language was altered. The requirement placed on health care providers was deleted, and in its place appeared a much softer directive to the Secretary of Health to provide funds to a "grantee" who would, among other things, provide patient resources to health care providers. Written in this way, the Prenatally and Postnatally Diagnosed Conditions Awareness Act passed. Its passage excited advocates for people with disabilities, but as the bill was weakened and never funded, it had no impact on a federal level.

States pick up the mantle 

As advocates realized the failings of the federal law, individuals and organizations in various states proposed legislation to their lawmakers. The proposed language mirrored that of the original Kennedy Brownback bill, requiring health care providers to provide certain information to their patients receiving a diagnosis. Now, states such as Massachusetts and Kentucky require physicians to provide up-to-date information which has been reviewed by Down syndrome organizations as well as medical experts. This criteria was written with the Kennedy Foundation's booklet "Understanding a Down Syndrome Diagnosis" in mind, a booklet edited with input from representatives of major medical groups and national Down syndrome groups. It covers all pregnancy options, including termination, as was required by participating medical groups and understood by the Down syndrome groups.

Louisiana overshoots its mark; efforts set to backfire 

Louisiana's exclusion of termination in its state-mandated Down syndrome materials flies in the face of national, historic efforts to provide a unified approach to prenatal information and it threatens to harm the cause of providing accurate, up-to-date information to pregnant women and their health care providers. Beyond destroying the original unity between left and right, beyond ignoring the hard-fought consensus among representatives of medical and Down syndrome groups, Louisiana's legislation creates a very difficult situation for providers and patients alike. While providers in Louisiana are now bound by statute to distribute termination-free information, they are equally bound by law and professional ethics to inform patients about the option of termination. Louisiana is one of the many states in the country which recognizes wrongful birth/ life claims, which leaves providers who fail to provide diagnosis and termination information subject to liability. Such lawsuits use standard of care as a guide. Providers look to professional organizations such as the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the National Society of Genetic Counselors for such standards. These organizations include termination as information which must be provided to patients after diagnosis.

Thus in order to meet all of their legal obligations, Louisiana health care providers must give out the termination-free materials provided by the state, and also separate termination-present information. What form will the latter take? Will it present the option of termination delicately and neutrally as the Kennedy Foundation's booklet does? Or will providers look for strongly-worded pro-termination information to balance the perceived pro-life information provided by the state? Or will providers talk of termination with whatever bias they already have, be it a pro-life, neutral, or pro-termination stance?

In Louisiana and in other parts of the country, the short-sighted efforts of some advocates are set to backfire. They are desperately working to purge prenatal information of all mention of termination, even in neutral form which provides evidence-based information about the possible emotional impact of termination after diagnosis. In doing so, they seek to give up that neutral presentation of termination in favor of a presentation which will vary wildly among health care professionals depending on their biases. This is an enormous set-back to the "pro-information" cause, brings the credibility of Down syndrome information into question due to the perception of a "pro-life" slant, and leaves the field wide open for an unpredictable variety of termination materials given to expectant parents.

Salvaging the "pro-information" cause 

Hopefully, health care providers in Louisiana will supplement the state-forced materials with the Kennedy Foundation's booklet, which will allow them to meet all legal and ethical obligations and still present neutral information. These booklets are the only booklets to be recommended in the guidelines of both National Society of Genetic Counselors and American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics. These booklets can be obtained at

In the meantime, various states across the country continue to consider and pass legislation which hold true to the original mission of a unified approach to prenatal information. You can keep track of these efforts here on Mark Leach's blog

The Louisiana legislation will prove logistically problematic for health care providers in that state who wish to provide accurate, balanced, neutral information while meeting their legal and ethical obligations. More worrisome is the potential impact on the rest of the states if Louisiana's actions cause a ripple effect. The pro-information movement has been able to keep itself relatively free from partisan divisions because of the priority of providing accurate, medically approved materials to expectant parents. If there are more versions of "pro-information" legislation which exclude even neutral mention of termination, the movement may be destined to disintegrate into the typical red state/ blue state divisions. Advocates can prevent this by being aware of the potential implications of tinkering with the model language, and advising their lawmakers to keep focused on the goal of providing accurate, balanced information to expectant parents.

Nancy McCrea Iannone has been providing active support to expectant parents on Baby Center’s Down Syndrome Pregnancy discussion board since 2006. The story of her daughter’s birth is contained in Gifts: Mothers Reflect on How Children with Down Syndrome Enrich Their Lives (“A Hopeful Future”) and Gifts II: How People with Down Syndrome Enrich the World (“An Enlightening Snow Day”). Nancy is the co-author of the book Diagnosis to Delivery: A Pregnant Mother’s Guide to Down Syndrome and the booklet “Your Loved One is Having a Baby with Down Syndrome.” Both of these publications and additional resources can be found at, part of the National Center for Prenatal and Postnatal Down Syndrome Resources.

Amy Julia Becker provided editorial assistance for this post.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Do you have a plan to harm yourself or anyone else?

In the New York Times, yesterday, Julie Schumacher, a professor of Creative Writing at University of Minnesota, wrote a powerful piece about talking to a student who had been expressing violent fantasies.
The undergraduate who had been writing poems about killing people showed up for his appointment in my office carrying a black canvas backpack. He was slim and dark-haired, his mouth torqued into an uneasy smile. I had spoken several times about his violent ramblings to the campus police and to the university’s office of mental health, and this was what they came up with: I should invite the student to my office and calmly begin a conversation with the following question: “Do you have a plan to harm yourself or anyone else?”
I hadn't really thought about the way that creative writing functions as a potential site for encounter with the innermost thoughts of students, but of course it does. Also, of course, fiction is not reality, and just because someone writes of terrible things doesn't mean that they intend to do anything. Terrible deeds and thoughts is a way to create drama and tension. And yet, in the wake of so many other shootings, here are these poems and what is a professor to do?

I've had a student write a kind of mad exam once, including one answer space filled with the repeated phrase, "I don't sleep, I don't sleep, I don't sleep, I don't sleep, I don't sleep," perhaps 30 times in large block capital letters. In the end, she was a very bright student having trouble adjusting to college, experiencing anxiety and insomnia, who wasn't doing any of the reading (I'm not sure she ever had to read a word of assigned material in highschool to get As, so read pleasant fiction instead. She was quite a reader. I liked her a lot). I got counseling, residential life, and the Dean of Students got involved, they took it seriously from the first email, and I felt supported by my colleagues from the first moment of worry.

I cannot summarize this piece and you need to go and read it. The instructor (TA) and professor sat alone with the student with a plan to run if things got dangerous, they talked, he wept. Schumacher finishes:
Our meeting lasted for almost an hour, and though it wasn’t yet noon when it was over, I needed to go home; I had sweated through my clothes. I never got an answer to The Question. And because the student’s written expressions of mayhem didn’t pose a specific threat, there was no recourse, despite consultations with mental health professionals, the student’s adviser, the campus police and a faculty committee on student conduct.
Eventually the student dropped out, but before he did so I sat sentry outside his instructor’s classroom while she taught. Her class was at night, at an hour when the building was mostly empty. If violence had erupted, I doubt I would have been useful. Still, I sat outside her classroom, reading, waiting, because it seemed there was nothing else to do.
Again, it's hard to parse the line between reality and fiction. Here's what I do believe, though - NO PROFESSOR OR TA SHOULD HAVE TO SIT ALONE IN A ROOM TO ASK THESE QUESTIONS. This is NOT what we are trained to do. We are not counselors. We are not psychologists. We are not law enforcement. We are teachers and yes, the teacher-student relationship, especially in creative fields, sometimes mirrors elements of the counselor-client relationship. But that's not by design and we should not choose to play therapist and especially we should not be forced by our institutions to do so.

I'll be eager to hear what the University of Minnesota admin has to say for itself in the wake of this piece. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Resources: Starbucks U

First, let me be clear, that I will absolutely sell out to Intelligentsia coffee at any time. The minute they need a higher ed, disability, gender, language, parenting, Red Sox, columnist, I am ready to provide as much paid content as they need. Moreover, I will take my pay in coffee. Or Money. Which I will use to buy coffee.

That said, here's a new CNN piece on the new Starbucks tuition reimbursement plan that was launched yesterday. I argue.

1. It's probably a positive benefit for the workers, but the margin is very small. See below and follow links in the piece for why.

2. Despite the great claims from CEO Howard Schultz, ASU President Michael Crow, and Sec. Ed Arne Duncan, it will have no impact on the student debt/college cost crises.

In fact, I suggest, we know what happens when something that should be a right becomes an employee-benefit, because we've seen it with healthcare in this country. It leads to increased inequality, intensifyng access issues, and gross inefficiencies.

The analogy between healthcare-as-benefit and its ills and education-as-benefit and its ills is not exact; however, it's one that Schultz makes in this interview from CNN Money. He touts his company's role as a disruptor in both cases, claiming widespread social good in both cases. I take that on.

I'm not alone. Here's three critics. There are many more, some much more pointed than I am.
  • Sara Goldrick-Rab, professor of educational policy studies and sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, argues that wholly online education is of questionable value for low-income students. If you follow the link, you'll see a major study on the topic. Goldrick-Rab is also quoted extensively here.
  • Tressie McMillan Cottom links the Starbucks U - ASU alliance to a longer history of shady for-profit practices.
  • I didn't see this in time to bring into my piece, but Siva Vaidhyanathan noted that, "“Many corporations in America have public tuition assistance plans that vary in value and utility for their employees. This is nothing particularly revolutionary, except that it’s an inside deal with one particularly aggressive institution.” I made a similar argument in my piece. He also says that while ASU Online is pretty good, it's aggressive trajectory is going to make maintaining that quality difficult.
The one thing I didn't work in was to cycle back to Arne Duncan and his department's comment that rating higher education is "like rating a blender." If you think that the reliance on a corporation to provide education is an aberration, or just a nice thing with no consequences, I'd urge you to think again. 

Education assessment is not like rating a blender. Education affordability is not like buying a latte.

Four Rulers, One Empire - University of Alberta Edition

Over the last few weeks there's been a lot of press in the higher education world on a story out of the University of Alberta. Fed up with soaring administration costs, a group of four faculty applied to share the chancellor position (with a salary of $400,000 Canadian, they're happy to just split it). Then other groups of faculty did likewise, inspired by this act of small rebellion. For coverage see here, here, and more recently, here.

To these intrepid, wonderful, professors, I offer one image of caution.

Probably not actually the Tetrarchy
What's going to happen when the Augustus of the eastern empire wants to retire and the Augustus in the West doesn't? Or if one of the Caesars converts to Catholicism and the other is Aryan or Pagan? Then there will be trouble. 

You know what would be a good idea? Three. We could call it a Triumvirate. Nothing could go wrong with a triumvirate.

P.S. It's all fun and games until universities start offering 4 PhDs the right to share one adjunct job. 

P.P.S. I have nothing serious to add, but it's a good story and it has made a statement. Now the University will hire whoever they want to hire and I doubt anything will change, but turning this hire into a farce is good. One step towards eroding this kind of pay gap at a time.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Cult of Compliance - NYPD Shoot at Unarmed Man, then Charge him for their Shooting of Bystanders

Last September, as I wrote about here, a man with mental illness ran into traffic away from police.
Police said officers saw a man on foot weaving erratically through traffic and sometimes blocking vehicles. After approaching him, police said, the man reached into his pocket as if grabbing a weapon, and two officers fired a total of three shots. They missed him but struck a 54-year-old woman in the right knee and a grazed a 35-year-old woman in the buttocks, police said.
The man was taken into custody after a police sergeant subdued him with a Taser. No weapons were found on him.
So the man was obstructing traffic, didn't obey verbal commands, and the NYPD opened fire. I cited this as an example of the cult of compliance.

The update on the story confirms my assessment. The police have charged him with their shooting of the two women.
An unarmed, emotionally disturbed man shot at by the police as he was lurching around traffic near Times Square in September has been charged with assault, on the theory that he was responsible for bullet wounds suffered by two bystanders, according to an indictment unsealed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan on Wednesday.
The piece continues (my emphasis)
Initially Mr. Broadnax was arrested on misdemeanor charges of menacing, drug possession and resisting arrest. But the Manhattan district attorney’s office persuaded a grand jury to charge Mr. Broadnax with assault, a felony carrying a maximum sentence of 25 years. Specifically, the nine-count indictment unsealed on Wednesday said Mr. Broadnax “recklessly engaged in conduct which created a grave risk of death.”
“The defendant is the one that created the situation that injured innocent bystanders,” said an assistant district attorney, Shannon Lucey.
The two police officers, who have not been identified, have been placed on administrative duty and their actions are still under investigation by the district attorney’s office, law enforcement officials said. They also face an internal Police Department inquiry.
Mr. Broadnax’s lawyer, Rigodis Appling, said Mr. Broadnax suffered from anxiety and depression and had been disoriented and scared when the police shot at him. He was reaching for his wallet, not a gun, she said. “Mr. Broadnax never imagined his behavior would ever cause the police to shoot at him,” she said.
So  here we have a situation in which the police decide to fire their weapons in a crowded area (with gawkers). They didn't see a weapon. There was no weapon. The police shot bystanders. And then, on the theory that the man caused this by not complying, they charged him with wounding the people the officers shot.

It's possible that this case will get thrown out. It's likely that it's a way of ratcheting up the possible charges in order to force a plea, a pretty standard tactic, or avoid a lawsuit. The underlying principle here is that non-compliance is illegal and any consequences from non-compliance, whether it's damage done to you or to bystanders, is your fault, not the fault of those who shoot into a crowd of people.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sunday Roundup - All the News from Adjunct to Australia

It was a very good writing week for me. I pitched four columns, landed three, one of which came out immediately. I also wrote a first-draft treatment of a book (more on this later once it's ready). Most fun, I did an interview and part of  a call-in show with an Australian radio program! You can listen to it here.

My column was "The Most Interesting Adjunct in the World." The story of the Santa Clara Adjunct got lots of press when it happened. I saw it first here on Rebecca Schuman's blog as it emerged out of adjunct-related chat on Twitter. Within a few hours, the story moved quickly. Here's a piece from Vitae, but there are of other links, many citing my good friend Rick Gooden's tweets on the subject. Yesterday, driving out to a gig at a pub, the great Peter Sagal on Wait-Wait Don't Tell Me used it as a news item for a final question.

For those who missed the story, the short version is:
The posting, for an adjunct-lecturer slot at Santa Clara University, required applicants to have published at least 25 books, through top presses, on highly specific but varied topics; worked as a journalist; hosted radio and TV productions; founded startups; cultivated connections at Oxford University and throughout the Bay Area; and, perhaps most importantly, have some experience as a teacher.
TWENTY FIVE BOOKS. Ok, well, it turns out they were trying to hire a specific person. This is a fairly normal practice, but not usually in Adjunct Land. I was pleased, therefore, to write what I call a "next day" analysis piece (I was, I think, the person who alerted the Santa Clara PR director to the issue, as she was startled when I talked to her on the phone).

Here are some points from the column.

I am not opposed to inside hires in principle. Bifurcated job ads can be, however, a warning sign for a divided department. I wrote:
Tailoring job listings to internal candidates is a well-known practice, and inside hires are not necessarily a bad thing. I hear people complain that this type of hiring leads to departments settling for known quantities instead of pursuing excellence, but that’s not really my sense of things. The pursuit of prestige-laden superstars marks much of what is wrong at the top echelon of academic hiring, in which a few people get marked as geniuses and soak up enormous resources that might be more equitably distributed among many merely brilliant scholars and teachers. My experience is that the academic world is filled with smart scholars and good teachers, and if you have one who is doing a good job with your students, it’s reasonable to hire her. 
What's unusual is to see the language come to adjunct land. It reflects, perhaps, the normalization of adjunct labor as a central component to the higher education landscape, demanding an organized response from all of us, as I have written before. Adjuncts are not "adjunct" to our universities.

Along with my interview, I talked about fatherhood in other contexts. I need to get better about marketing myself as a fatherhood writer, because today is apparently Father's Day and I am not doing anything professional. I did pitch a column that didn't get picked up, which is fine and normal, then did other things. The use of the word "marketing" and "myself" makes me deeply uncomfortable. I am a terrible capitalist.

I wrote about the "Dads are incompetent" theme in our culture and what it says, as well as a longer piece about parenting against the grain, "Just say no to pink." I got plenty of pushback on that one, probably deserved, for coming off as femme-phobic. I'll have to keep working on how to articulate my agenda and using "pink" as metonymy clearly won't work. It distracts rather than helps. Maybe "Princess-culture?"

Other pieces were:

Thanks for reading. Please always point out mistakes I make and other things I might want to read.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Dads are incompetent. HA HA HA HA HA!

On this lucky Friday, the discourse of dads as incompetent in the home looms large (h/t to Soraya Chemaly for the link):
There’s a good chance if you receive — or give — a Father’s Day card this weekend, Dad will be portrayed as a farting, beer-obsessed, tool-challenged buffoon who would rather hog the TV remote, go fishing or play golf than be with the kids.
Such cards are top sellers among the 87 million Father’s Day cards that will be given this year. But just who are these dads, and what decade are they from?

The greeting card image of Dad as lazy, incompetent boob is increasingly out of sync with today’s fathers, many of whom spend as much time packing lunches and helping with homework as their own fathers spent in the Barca­lounger.

But stereotypes sell, greeting card companies say. The Father’s Day bestseller for NobleWorks Cards, a New Jersey-based publisher, says, “Keep Calm We Found the Remote.” The next bestseller shows kids surrounding Dad as he opens a card misspelled as “Happy Farter’s Day.” The third-biggest seller shows “The Evolution of Dad” from ape to caveman to a guy hunkered down in front of the TV.
I suggest these cards reflect the continued belief in the breadwinner-homemaker (or breadmaker - homewinner, as I keep trying to type) model of family organization. Implicit in these cards is another figure, the stay-at-home-mom, or at least the perfect Angel in the House.

It's exactly why I am hitching my rhetorical wagon to the phrase, "working dad," in which both worker and father are fully integrated into our core identity.

Much more on this come.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Just say no to pink

I actually really like Pink!
These are proto-thoughts, very rough. What do you think?

When I talk about raising girls and avoiding gender stereotyping, I often get the pushback - what if she really honestly just likes pink (or barbies, bratz, princesses, or whatever)?

It's a fair question.

My answer, again still in progress, is this. You have to be the one who works against the grain. Society is going to push "pink," using pink as a metonymy for many things, on girls. There is no honest way to just like a color/toy set divorced from it social context. Ellie, in the middle of last year, came home and demanded the pink bowl because pink was a girl's color. We talked about liking all colors and the sentiment seems to have faded, but it was a shot across the bow. It's my job, with my daughter, to work against the grain, to push back. I don't have to be balanced because society is not balanced.

Moreover, don't buy pink for any other girl. Trust that someone else is going to do it. We had Ellie's birthday party a couple weeks ago. The Barbie and Disney princess bags went to the garbage, not the re-use drawer. I apologize for nothing (my wife actually threw out the Barbie one)!

Don't buy pink for girls. Not your girl. Not any other girl.

The next question is whether we /should/ buy pink for boys if we want to work against the grain. There I am less sure. A girl without pink is not an outsider. A boy in pink is an outsider. It's about exerting modest counter-pressure versus societal, not creating kids who cannot fit in (if they want to). Which is to say that a boy who came to me and wanted pink, or a skirt, or makeup, or whatever - I say yes. But I'm not going to try to force them against the current. A girl who comes to me and asks for a princess - I say yes (you know, assuming it's gift season or whatever). But I'm not going to buy her one unless she explicitly asks.

So, how am I doing so far? What are your thoughts? Help me refine this in time, oh, Black Friday after Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Professionalism and Code-Switching

Lately I've been having lots of conversations about norms, code-switching, professionalization, and what our job is as teachers to model and suggest. I've written on the blog about code-switching as a skill that my students generally lack and that I think is useful for them. Others have countered, though, saying we should focus on changing norms rather than forcing conformity, a message I endorse and yet ... how do I tell one of my students that they should be the one to make that change?

I don't have any answers today, but thanks to a piece I first saw from Eric Grollman, have more grist for the mill.

In Huffington Post, Jacob Tobia writes about professionalism in, "Why I am genderqueer, professional, and unafraid." He writes:
Professionalism is a funny term, because it masquerades as neutral despite being loaded with immense oppression. As a concept, professionalism is racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, classist, imperialist and so much more -- and yet people act like professionalism is non-political. Bosses across the country constantly tell their employees to 'act professionally' without a second thought. Wear a garment that represents your non-Western culture to work? Your boss may tell you it's unprofessional. Wear your hair in braids or dreadlocks instead of straightened? That's probably unprofessional too. Wear shoes that are slightly scuffed because you can't yet afford new ones? People may not think you're being professional either.
Tobia, as it turns out, is wearing dresses, heels, and makeup. Read more of his story at the link.

I just think this is a very clear articulation with the problem of professionalism, but I still feel like I should teach my students to be able to code-switch, as it will help them. I do not have a solution to this conundrum.

My friend Jenn, when discussing this on Facebook, also linked to this useful piece on US Military hairstyles and the reactions of African-American women. The army has come out with new guidelines, many of which do not accomodate non-white non-straight hair. Here's the line that I thought was important:
In a written statement, the army said: "The intention of uniform policies is to ensure soldiers' appearance reflects the highest level of professionalism.
"None of the new standards, whether pertaining to tattoos, grooming, jewellery, etc, are designed to discriminate against any gender, race, or ethnic background."
I'm sure this is true. I'm sure they weren't designed to discriminate. But they still discriminate.

And here, because African-American women make up a substantial number of our service-women, it looks like instead of forcing soldier to confirm, codes are being switched to accommodate difference.
The backlash led the Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to call for a policy review at the end of April, giving military leaders three months to evaluate comprehensive regulations as they pertain to black women.
None of this lets me know what I should do in the classroom in terms of teaching and modeling code-switching. I still think it's useful. I still think it's oppressive. Any thoughts?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Cult of Compliance: Attacking the Breasts of Female Protestors

At New Criticals, Alison Kinney has written a powerful piece comparing police violence against suffragists to the police violence against Occupy activist Cecily McMillan.

She starts with this story:
"Constables and plain-clothes men who were in the crowd passed their arms round me from the back and clutched hold of my breasts in as public a manner as possible, and men in the crowd followed their example...”
 The anonymous woman who reported these acts of police brutality was one of 300 British suffragists peacefully marching before the House of Commons on November 18, 1910. Journalist Henry Noel Brailsford and Dr. Jessie Murray took 135 statements from activists and eyewitnesses describing how police beat the suffragists with batons, punched, kicked, dragged, choked, stripped, and sexually assaulted them...Brailsford and Murray wrote:
“The action of which the most frequent complaint is made is variously described as twisting round, pinching, screwing, nipping, or wringing the breast. This was often done in the most public way so as to inflict the most humiliation…The language used by some of the police while performing this action proves that it was consciously sensual.”
At least two women died because of this six-hour campaign of police brutality, now known as Black Friday.
Kinney moves through other examples and popular reaction  to the suffrage movement, noting sexualized violence from both "the public" and agents of the state, comparing to McMillan's experience, then writing what I think is so important [my emphasis]:
Once a social justice movement, like women’s suffrage, has succeeded in enshrining its goals in law and social acceptance, it is all too easy to dismiss the state violence against it as a relic of less enlightened times. But such violence often looks the same with each recurrence: wildly disproportionate; reifying racial, gender, class, and other biases; and trampling civil liberties. The rhetoric also looks similar, delegitimizing activism as frivolously idealistic, a distraction from “real” issues, and, simultaneously, dangerously irresponsible. The word “violent” has a sneaky way of attaching to protest, even—perhaps especially—when the protesters are the ones being bloodied; state violence, on the other hand, is supposed to be hygienic, orderly, responsible, sane, and necessary.
One of my questions about what I term the cult of compliance is the extent to which it is a product of our historical moment or an indelible aspect of the relationship between the state and its subjects. I'm an optimist, I want to believe that we can improve, that we can make things better. I'm also an historian, though, so it's hard to ignore this kind of evidence as coming out of a fundamental place in the structures of our society in its reactions to protesters in general and women specifically.

I do think there are specific authoritarian strains our society that have intensified since 9/11 and manifest in the compliance activities I chronicle on this site. I also am sure that technology - our easy access to video and photo - means that we record and disseminate events that otherwise would be ignored or turn into one person's word against another (a situation in which the state controls the permanent record of "truth," all too often).

In the meantime, used war gear is flowing to police departments at an unprecedented rate as the war in Afganistan winds down. They're going to want to use this stuff.
The equipment has been added to the armories of police departments that already look and act like military units. Police SWAT teams are now deployed tens of thousands of times each year, increasingly for routine jobs.Masked, heavily armed police officers in Louisiana raided a nightclub in 2006 as part of a liquor inspection. In Florida in 2010, officers in SWAT gear and with guns drawn carried out raids on barbershops that mostly led only to charges of “barbering without a license.”
So, now you can get your haircut safely. Do not, however, try to protest against the government.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Crowdsourcing - Tenure and Promotion and Public Engagement

I am writing a piece about tenure/promotion criteria and public engagement. My hunch as I went in was that most universities do not count public engagement. To my surprise, as I do this work, I find that I'm wrong. So here are my questions/requests:

1. If you have the time, could you look at your faculty handbooks/relevant documents and tell me what you find, especially with links if such materials are public. You might see "community outreach" instead of public engagement, or, if following certain ways of talking about scholarship, the "scholarship of engagement."

2. Do you know anyone who has gone up for tenure or promotion at your school using such credentials? How did it work?

I'm trying to get a sense of practices, broadly. I've read about two dozen t&p manuals, but obviously can't read all of them! You can, though, and point me in the right direction.

As always, reply anywhere - here, facebook, twitter, or email at lollardfish AT gmail...

Thank you.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Sunday Roundup: Handwriting, Fatherhood, Dissertations

I took a semi-writing break this week, playing with my kids and re-charging energies, as well as experimenting with homemade soba noodles (good flavor, texture not quite right yet, in case you were wondering) and finger limes (delicious!). 

Mostly, this week I provided links rather than my own writing, with the one exception here - Handwriting with Tears; Don't cry for cursive. I wrote about my own experience as a dyslexic person and the importance of typing for me. I urge you all not to reflexively re-tweet the NYTimes (and now everyone else) pieces smugly urging the preservation of long-hand writing without thinking about the ableist context. That doesn't mean the pieces lack value, to the contrary in fact. But we can focus on outcomes rather than means here. 

Since writing the piece, I have found dozens of positive responses from writers and scholars whose lives were changed by easy access to typing and printing. It's anecdote, not data, but that seems significant to me.

I also looked at a snide little tweet from Karen Kelsky - I enjoy being a man! - Thoughts on criticism - and thought about the ways that my writing about fatherhood will have to navigate some troubled waters. I am going to have to signal, early and often, to liberal women in particular, that I am trying to write a new kind of approach to fatherhood (a feminist approach). That's useful data. 

I also got mail this week from an adjunct at a big local university saying, "Oh yeah! Well if men have it so good, why isn't there a men's studies program!" Maybe more on this next week. 

I had a post calling for reactions to the MLA proposal to re-think the dissertation and then rounded up some resources Against the monograph dissertation

Finally, in disability writing, SCOTUS declared the the End of [the phrase] Mental Retardation and Tom Shakespeare wrote about Disability and Happiness for BBC magazine.

Have a great Sunday. 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Resources: Against the monograph dissertation

Here is a collection of resources for my latest piece. People who are arguing to move to dissertation away from the monograph model.

The recent MLA report is the catalyst. It reads:
Reimagine the dissertation. An extended research project should remain the defining feature of doctoral education. Departments should expand the spectrum of forms the dissertation may take and ensure that students receive mentoring from professionals beyond the department as appropriate.
  • This report is building off of former MLA president Sidonie Smith's writing against the monograph dissertation as the sole way of thinking about a culminating project.
It reminded me of Mark Taylor, chair of Religion at Columbia, mocking his own department's students in the NYTimes in 2009, singling out someone working on Dun Scotus' footnotes. He wrote:
Transform the traditional dissertation. In the arts and humanities, where looming cutbacks will be most devastating, there is no longer a market for books modeled on the medieval dissertation, with more footnotes than text. As financial pressures on university presses continue to mount, publication of dissertations, and with it scholarly certification, is almost impossible. (The average university press print run of a dissertation that has been converted into a book is less than 500, and sales are usually considerably lower.) For many years, I have taught undergraduate courses in which students do not write traditional papers but develop analytic treatments in formats from hypertext and Web sites to films and video games. Graduate students should likewise be encouraged to produce “theses” in alternative formats.

  • That piece engendered lots of commentary and criticism (I'm focusing on ones that talked about Duns Scotus and the dissertation, rather than Taylor's other ideas. Here's a big Chronicle overview. Here's a piece on "What's the matter with footnotes?" Natalia Cecire weighed in here
  • Here's Terry McGarty applauding, "All too often having doctoral students is a means to an end for faculty who just want free help." Also, he notes, Einstein didn't need a thesis adviser, so why should anyone else?
  • Taylor turned his op-ed into a book, Crisis on Campus. I haven't read it. Reviews say it's provocative but thin in terms of data. Taylor's an interesting guy, but mocking a grad student in the NYTimes is the very definition of punching down.

Ted Steinberg followed up Taylor by advocating "Death to the Footnoters:"
The idea of graduate students running around writing doctoral dissertations as if they were living in the Middle Ages would be funny were it not for the fact that thousands of such students are today squandering their very best years, squirreled away in the archives writing treatises about as likely to be read as documents with titles such as Erring: A Postmodern A/theology3 or Altarity4 or “nO nOt nO” (admittedly works written by Professor Taylor himself in an earlier, perhaps more medieval time in his life).5 Almost inevitably, Taylor concludes, the monograph is a “financial failure” and the dissertation process itself a “rite of initiation [that] produces little of lasting value.”
I got a lot of responses to my blog post asking how people view their scholarship, but this is its own thoughtful piece from Geoff Schullenberger. He's interested in seeing the dissertation re-framed, but cautions:
Count me skeptical that the monograph dissertation is the only way to achieve intellectual rigor and commitment. It seems to me that the main reason it has come to be seen as such is the “job market”: when a search committee is reviewing ten zillion applications for a position, they need to have a discrete “product” to evaluate. For the same reason, it seems unimaginable that the dissertation can be reformed without a broader reform of hiring practices and, along with it, a systematic effort to address the exploitative regime of academic labor. Otherwise, the result will be essentially what Schuman alludes to with her “Executive Literary MBA” quip: a two-tier system in which people who want to go on the tenure track still write dissertations in the current mode, while those destined to “alt-ac” trajectories write a “reformed” dissertation, which is viewed condescendingly by the tenured but tolerated because it’s the price they have to pay to keep their TAs, RAs, and graduate seminars intact.
Odds and ends:

  • A 2012 IHE piece on the MLA thinking about the dissertation. 
  • More to come here as I find things.

Friday, June 6, 2014

I enjoy being a man! - Thoughts on criticism

What do we, as writers, owe other writers?

I've been thinking about this in the context of my "talking while privileged" argument. In general, when making arguments about privilege and power, I try to be gracious when people with less privilege don't like what I say. I thank them for reading. I listen to their critique. I think about what I might learn from it.

What might I learn from this, other than to be angry that another writer decided to reduce my prose to this little la-la-la insult and send it out to her thousands of twitter followers?
1.Sometimes, it's ok to be angry. I don't know where Kelsky and I lie on the spectra of power and privilege. She has a much bigger profile and a big business weighing in on academic matters. On the other hand, when writing about gender, I try to accept criticism from women with grace (much as when writing about academic labor, I try to accept criticism from adjuncts with grace). But this is a mean little dig, it's not seeking me out with a mention, but I know my article and it's from a fellow writer for the Chronicle. I get to be angry
2. I am a man writing about feminism and fatherhood. It's going to raise hackles, people from both the left and the right are going to have visceral, quick, reactions and it's important that I don't get angry
I actually think Kelsky might like my essay about using my privilege as a father to help dismantle my privilege as a father and yet create a better working environment for both men and women. You cannot make someone read you closely, so I am going to have work on my early sign-posting to derail this gut reaction. When you've been dealing with sexism, as I'm sure Kelsky has, when you dwell on the internet with its misogyny and mansplaining, it's little wonder that readers like her have a gut, negative, reaction to my writing. I believe, though, because I'm an optimist, that I can win some people over by just writing better.

I also know this. This little barb stung. It stung much more than the endless parade of homophobic comments from right-wing trolls, the cries of gender betrayal from MRAs, or the clueless, "everything's fine for me!" from other straight white dads. It stung because I think we're on the same side here, but I am coming across as the enemy.

But then you pluck the barb out, put on a bandaid, and get back to writing. It's going to be a busy day of essay writing, working in the yard, and playing with my son. Enjoy Friday.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Crowdsourcing: How do you feel about the new MLA Dissertation Proposal?

Dear Adjuncts, Grad Students, Post-Ac, Alt-Ac, and other academics who are getting or have PhDs but who do NOT have a FT faculty position. UPDATE: Or people in TT jobs not doing much research due to teaching load!

The MLA, via this report, has recommended reducing time to degree for people in MLA fields.
Reduce time to degree. Departments should design programs that can be completed in five years from entry into a doctoral program with a bachelor's degree as the highest degree attained. (p.15)
Individual trajectories vary, and some students' programs may take longer, especially those that require specialized linguistic, archival, or technological knowledge. (p. 2)
Given this, I have some questions for you. Surely someone else has asked.
  1. Would you be happier if your time to degree was shorter? 
  2. Would you be happier if you didn't have to produce a monograph dissertation? (links from former MLA president Sidonie Smith) 
  3. If you didn't get a job and produced a traditional monograph dissertation, how do you feel about that work now?
Here are some media followups to the report and some criticism.

I have lots and lots of thoughts about this recommendation. Do I have thoughts! But I am a tenured professor, so my thoughts may not be relevant, and my rule #1 of talking with privilege is to listen. So please, speak to me, O Adjuncts, Post/Alt-Ac, and Graduate Students of the Internet.

What I want to know is for those of you who have or are getting PhDs who do not have a full-time academic job, whether because you are a graduate student, an adjunct, or someone not in academia, how do you feel about this? If you haven't gotten an academic job, how do you feel about your scholarship now? Was it time wasted? Would you do it again? Would you rather have had options? If we are going to radically transform the nature of the humanities dissertation in order to better serve graduate students and save opportunity-cost for those who don't land full-time faculty employment of some sort, do you think that's a good idea?

Please respond in comments below, via twitter, via my public facebook page, or emailing me lollardfish AT gmail DOT com. Feel free to comment anonymously or confidentially via email. I will only quote you with explicit permission.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The End of Mental Retardation

Language moves. In the world of disability, phrases enter our lexicon to replace other terms that become pejorative, then they too have to be replaced. This is a normal process and does not mean we cannot work for better language, because representation matters. Representation shapes reality and reality shapes representation. This assertion is a fundamental tenet of my writing and this blog. One of my goals is to work on the many details and complexities linking language to power and privilege, especially as it relates to disability.

So here's a headline that you might have missed (I would have missed it if not for Rebecca Cokley, executive director of the National Council on Disability): Supreme court ends "mental disability." Sort of.
The U.S. Supreme Court is often divided, but on one little-noticed point last week, it was unanimous: the term "mental retardation" is no longer appropriate to use. This may seem trivial and way too late. Mental health professionals and most of the rest of us long ago abandoned that phrase, which echoes insulting schoolyard epithets.
But at an institution whose decisions have broad impact, the court's action is a significant sign of society's progress toward treating each other with dignity.
The court's shift came Tuesday in Hall v. Florida, which struck down Florida's method for determining whether a death row inmate who claims intellectual disability should be executed. On that issue, the court split 5-4.
But on the second page of the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy laid down the law on terminology: "Previous opinions of this court have employed the term 'mental retardation.' This opinion uses the term 'intellectual disability' to describe the identical phenomenon." Justice Samuel Alito Jr. adopted the same term in his dissent. As recently as 2013, the court routinely used "mental retardation" in its opinions.
The persistent effort by some states to execute people with severe intellectual disabilities is just one of the many horrors of the death penalty and its application in America. That's the bigger issue here.

Still, SCOTUS reflects a broader societal shift in language and representation, and I'm pleased to read Kennedy's and Alito's language here.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Handwriting with Tears; Don't cry for cursive.

There's a handwriting system that my son's teachers use called "Handwriting without Tears." They have an app (that I don't really like) and all kinds of classroom curricula (which teachers seem to like). I always laugh a little at the name, because for me, handwriting caused tears.

As an adult, I've come to terms with my quirky brain and dyslexia and my general trouble with spatial relations. I have the fine motor control to play instruments, but something about trying to form shapes and letters on pages was and is very difficult for me. I can do basic clear printing with intense concentration.

Throughout elementary school, I was criticized for my handwriting. I remember my mother once going through weeks or months of papers, trying to figure out how to improve my handwriting (a very sharp pencil was one suggestion). It wasn't just my dyslexia, I was also sloppy, though I've come to see certain kinds of sloppiness as a coping mechanism for my strange brain (i.e. if I intentionally screw up, then I don't have to wonder why my brain doesn't work right). At any rate, I hated writing and my handwriting is a disaster.

When I was in 8th grade, we got a personal computer with an early word processing program. It changed my life. It divorced the act of writing from the act of forming letters with my hands. A typewriter could have done the same, but using a typewriter was not normal for 7th graders, whereas the new age of computers changed things. As I am now steeped in the world of assistive technology for my son, I think back on the computer and the word processing program as my own form of assistive tech. Anyway, as Sara Hendren regularly argues, all technology is assistive technology, from motorized wheelchairs to shoes to hearing aids to glasses.

I'm writing this in the wake of many friends sharing a New York Times piece lamenting the end of handwriting teaching.
Psychologists and neuroscientists say it is far too soon to declare handwriting a relic of the past. New evidence suggests that the links between handwriting and broader educational development run deep.
Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how.
“When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated,” said Stanislas Dehaene, a psychologist at the Collège de France in Paris. “There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain.
A 2012 study led by Karin James, a psychologist at Indiana University, lent support to that view. Children who had not yet learned to read and write were presented with a letter or a shape on an index card and asked to reproduce it in one of three ways: trace the image on a page with a dotted outline, draw it on a blank white sheet, or type it on a computer. They were then placed in a brain scanner and shown the image again.
The researchers found that the initial duplication process mattered a great deal. When children had drawn a letter freehand, they exhibited increased activity in three areas of the brain that are activated in adults when they read and write: the left fusiform gyrus, the inferior frontal gyrus and the posterior parietal cortex.
Let's assume that all of this is correct. The value here isn't handwriting, but the neurological processes that accompany handwriting.

Handwriting is going away. Not scribbling quick notes on pads, but the era of formal cursive handwriting, the very form of handwriting that seems to most provide these neurological benefits, is coming to an end.

The solution is not to lament the loss of cursive and not to force kids to learn cursive anyway, despite its lack of utility, but rather to find other means to stimulate related neurological processes. Is it art? Is it rock climbing? Is it baking bread? I don't know, but let's not confuse means with outcome.

Update: On ableism and handwriting, please read this wonderful post from my friend Rick Godden.