Sunday, May 31, 2015

Sunday Roundup - The Republican Assault on Higher Education

I have a bunch of pieces out in various stages of edits, and hope to have 3 or 4 pieces published next week. This week I had only one, a new Game of Thrones piece for Vice. I think the changing relationship between the books and the show is interesting. Eventually, the show will become canon, if indeed it hasn't already

Of course, Game of Thrones is a very problematic show, as I try to face directly in my writing. I also wrote a blog post on Liking Problematic Things then had some thoughts about the way that Trigger Warnings Are Your Friends (focused more on academia than TV/entertainment).

Finally, I had a brief post on Language and Power: Stop Saying Troll. Center the victim. Call people who abuse folks online ... abusers.


But the most important pieces I read this week emerged from various writers focusing on the Republican attack on higher education in Wisconsin. Here are some links:

In the last few days, the GOP in WI have removed definitions of tenure from the statute, cute around 250 million in funding from UW, and change "subject to" to "subordinate to" as a piece of their plan to destroy shared governance. Even worse, if everything passes, WI will become the only state in the country to not require even a BA to become a teacher. I don't really understand the kind of person who looks at the problems faced by WI and decides ... What we need are teachers with less education! That'll fix it.

Here are a few links. What are you reading?
In short, Wisconsin Republicans have declared total war on public education. Both the K-12 bill and the UW bill were negotiated and written totally in secret by committee Republicans, with the details released to the public only hours before the final, fore-ordained votes were held. Moral and political commitments aside, this leaves one to wonder whether those legislators who are quickest to cite “market-based” considerations have even a basic understanding of what Wisconsin’s comparative advantage is. Wisconsin has a hard-earned and well-deserved reputation for its excellent public schools and universities. Without those, what is the point of living in Wisconsin as opposed to some other state? Set aside the fact that no UW campus will ever be able to recruit a top-tier scholar again. Why would anyone choose Wisconsin as a place to raise their family? Why would anyone in their right mind move to Wisconsin after this budget?
And let's not forget North Carolina and Louisiana 

Friday, May 29, 2015

Trigger Warnings Are Your Friends!

The Trigger Warning debate is back. Did it ever really go away?

Here's my new piece of the argument: Trigger Warnings preserve access to offensive content that, nevertheless, has educational value.

A year ago I wrote this piece for CNN in the context of the TW discussion. I argued that best practices for teaching any content requires preparation or "scaffolding," and good scaffolding would cover many of the functions of what students are asking for in trigger warnings. I continue to argue that "content notes" is a more useful pedagogical context.

Here's an excellent essay by a TW-skeptic, Sarah Marian Seltzer, who interviewed teachers and was persuaded by their methodology. She writes:
Educators who choose to utilize these warnings in their classrooms often see more nuance in the issue. “We have to take [students demanding trigger warnings] seriously… because being more acutely aware of how students are responding to challenging material is just better and more responsible pedagogy,” wrote Aaron R. Hanlon last week. Faculty in this camp say that they’re committed to academic and intellectual freedom, but also to honoring students’ experiences, in particular the often silent presence of rape survivors — a trauma-prone group — among the college-aged population. Rather than debating whether to teach troubling material, as much of the anti-trigger warning contingent fears, they say they’ve moved on to asking how to do so in a respectful way.
So that's good and very much in line with my own approach. I especially liked this:
“Trigger warnings allow me to have a conversation, to say, ‘This is not a class about your personal life,’” Heldman told me. “This actually helps to make the class more academic. And it has the benefit of letting students prepare for what might come.”
This is very much my experience. I teach all kinds of difficult texts - stories of massacre, anti-Jewish polemic, Inquisition trials, anti-Latin polemic (Byzantium). Because I'm a medievalist, it's less directly emotionally affecting than if I taught the Holocaust, or say 20th-century American popular culture. Still, the pre-conversation about what we're going to read provides a framework for students to respond to potentially upsetting material. There are no spoilers in the history of the First Crusade.

Last August, I wrote about the need for a content note in This American Life's re-broadcast of a David Sedaris piece, one filled with jokes about the intellectually disabled. TAL uses content notes when they talk about sex and racism, but not for other kinds of troubling material, and that bothered me. Moreover, I suggest it should bother them, too, because without content notes, such pieces all go the way of "Little Black Sambo."
The trigger warning, therefore, emerges as a pathway towards preserving content, preserving material as its language ages our of the mainstream into the widely and wildly offensive. Because without the trigger warning, well, then I have to advocate that this never be aired again.
Norms change. Studying changing norms or just previous eras requires engaging with material that is offensive. Content notes are a way to say - I recognize the problem, here's why we're reading/discussing/viewing this, and let's go learn something.

Trigger Warnings are about keeping material in the curriculum, not banning it. Embrace them.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Liking Problematic Things

I like TV shows, books, and movies that are imperfect matches for my values. They are produced in societies that are, likewise, imperfect, and few cultural creations can withstand any kind of purity test.

That doesn't mean that you just get to ignore the problem. It also doesn't necessarily mean you have to stop enjoying something that is problematic. What you have to do, as is so often the case, is to start with listening.

I just ran across this great post from the blog Social Justice League - How to be a fan of problematic things. I found it by reading Shakesville (Melissa McEwan) on Mad Max and feminism (tl;dr it's an imperfect feminist film that is a fantastic feminist film. Also Tom Hardy gets it), and that took me to McEwan's piece on watching The Heat and what it meant to see a body with which she could identify be presented matter-of-factly on the screen (as opposed to the usual fat-shaming), and from there to Social Justice League. It's from 2012, but I'm writing tomorrow about good representations of disability on problematic shows, so it's very timely for me.

Some quotes:
Firstly, acknowledge that the thing you like is problematic and do not attempt to make excuses for it. It is a unique irritation to encounter a person who point blank refuses to admit that something they like is problematic
Don't deny. Listen.
Secondly, do not gloss over the issues or derail conversations about the problematic elements. Okay, so you can admit that Dune is problematic. But wait, you’re not done! You need to be willing to engage with people about it!
Also listen.
Thirdly you must acknowledge other, even less favourable, interpretations of the media you like. Sometimes you still enjoy a movie or book because you read a certain, potentially problematic scene in a certain way – but others read it entirely differently, and found it more problematic
Did I mention, listen?
As fans, sometimes we need to remember that the things we like don’t define our worth as people. So there’s no need to defend them from every single criticism or pretend they are perfect. Really loving something means seeing it as it really is, not as you wish it were. You can still be a good fan while acknowledging the problematic elements of the things you love. In fact, that’s the only way to be a good fan of problematic things.
I'm a fan of this blog post. Go read it.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Language and Power: Stop Saying Troll

Troll Warning: Image of a troll
silhouette in a red triangle.
From WikiCommons.
Trolls are happy to be trolls, mostly. They like the term; it conveys power. They have driven a lot of good people off the internet in their large-scale acts, and just made it an unsafe place in an everyday, small-scale, nasty way.

Whitney Phillips, author of This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Mapping the Relationship between Online Trolling and Mainstream Culture says - Stop Saying Troll. Trolls like being called trolls, because it both gives them deniability ("just trolling," rather than systematically harassing or using hate speech). It also centers the harasser rather than the victim, by looking at what the "troll" is doing rather than the experience of the target. Phillips writes:
The term “troll” has come to subsume all kinds of antagonistic online behaviors, regardless of whether the participants would describe themselves as trolls. I am wary of this new framing (in my research I was exploring a very specific, subcultural sense of the term), and whenever possible avoid using the term as a behavioral catch-all. Instead, I prefer to describe online antagonism in terms of the impact it has on its targets. So, if someone is engaging in violently misogynistic behavior, I call them a violent misogynist, as “troll” implies a level of playfulness that tends to minimize their antagonistic behaviors, or at least establish a firewall between the embodied person and their digitally mediated actions. (“I’m not really a racist, I just play one on the Internet” doesn’t account for the fact that, regardless of what might be in someone’s heart, his or her actions have a real and demonstrable impact on those forced to read yet another racist statement online.)
Just as problematically, the “troll” framing—which is so often used with either the implied or explicit caveat “just trolling,” i.e., “not a big deal/stop being so sensitive/learn how to Internet”—also casts aspersions over those who do not want to constantly deal with identity-based antagonism online. In short, referring to nasty online behaviors as “trolling” frames online antagonism as a game only the aggressor can win, most apparent in the phrase “don’t feed the trolls” (which I critique here). In the process, use of trolling as a behavioral catchall privileges the aggressor’s needs and interests and right to free expression over those of the people they target. It’s the troll’s world in this model. Everyone else is just living in it. And that gives these “trolls” far more credit than they actually deserve.
 I always think that pondering how we frame and discuss problems is worthwhile. The troll discourse emerged more or less organically and isn't going anywhere soon, but I like this analysis and it's well worth reading.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sunday Roundup - Low Cost and High Quality Education Go Together

This week I had one published piece - Low Cost College Isn't Enough (, 5/20/15)

Over the next 18 months of the presidential election, there's going to be a lot of conversation about lowering the cost of college. I am asking you to help me make sure we also talk about high quality, which for me begins with a discussion of adjunctification, excellent advising, and lots of other resources to help the most vulnerable students.

Two further points:
Other posts:

Friday, May 22, 2015

#JusticeForKayleb - VA Gov calls for Investigation

Last month I wrote a piece for Al Jazeera America on zero tolerance, restraint, abuse, and the cult of compliance in our schools. I started with a report from the Center for Public Integrity and the story of Kayleb Moon-Robinson.
Kayleb Moon-Robinson is a 12-year-old boy who lives in Virginia. One day at school, he kicked a trash can and was charged with disorderly conduct in juvenile court. A few weeks later, he disobeyed a new rule (made just for him) that he stay behind in the classroom while his peers left. When the school resource officer (SRO) arrived to take him to the principal’s office for disobedience, Kayleb reportedly struggled and swore. The officer allegedly slammed the boy down on a desk and handcuffed him. Kayleb is now being charged with felony assault on a police officer, and his future is very much in doubt.
Kayleb is autistic and African-American. The state of Virginia wants to brand him a criminal. The Center for Public Integrity names it as the state most likely to send students to jail. 
Now, the CPI reports that Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has called for an investigation into why this is happening.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe has asked members of his cabinet to recommend policy changes in response to a Center for Public Integrity report showing that schools in the commonwealth refer students to police and courts more often than other states.
“They’re going to look into it, and make recommendations and he will act on it,” Brian Coy, McAuliffe’s spokesman told the Center. “Virginia parents send their children to school to learn, not to end up in the juvenile-justice system.”
So this is a good step and a necessary response to the CPI report.

But there's still Kayleb facing criminal charges. It's time for the Governor to not just act in a macro way to change policy, but also to focus on the individual and fix this.


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Autism Speaks Critiques - Resources and a Plea for Neurodiversity

UPDATE: My NYT piece has been delayed. Still in the works but probably 10 days or so from now, for various reasons. Stay tuned!

Today I am going to have a piece in the New York Times about Autism Speaks and a recent parenting dilemma. I thought it might be useful to have some resources here. I'll post the link to the piece when it's up.

From the letter:
We, the undersigned organizations representing the disability community, are writing to urge you to end your support for Autism Speaks. We profoundly appreciate your interest in supporting the autism and broader disability communities. Our work is about empowering and supporting people with all disabilities, including adults and children on the autism spectrum, to be recognized as equal citizens in our society and afforded all of the rights and opportunities that implies. Unfortunately, Autism Speaks’ statements and actions do damage to that work and to the lives of autistic people and those with other disabilities. It is our hope that we may work together in a spirit of partnership to find new and less controversial ways for you to show your commitment to our community.
There's lots more, but if you start on the master post, you'll find your way through the critiques. They do not speak for autistic people. They do not speak for many parents. I do not believe they do more harm than good.

One response to the Autism Speaks problem is to emphasize the concept of neurodiversity. Neurodiversity asks us to reframe our understanding of the many ways that peoples' minds work. Instead of thinking about disabled and normal, consider diversity. 

It so happens there's a new project, NOS Magazine, that has just launched a kickstarter. NOS = not otherwise specified, for conditions that don't quite fit into clear diagnostic categories. This kind of journalism and representation is exactly what the disability community needs, and I'm asking you to support them if you can.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Dominican University - We're Doing Something Right

In my recent CNN piece, I wrote about my university with both pride and realism. We are a relatively low-cost private school that does some things exceptionally well. Those things that we do well cost money, though. I wrote:
The Pell Institute's publication "Moving Beyond Access: College Success For Low-Income, First-Generation Students" lists advising, tutoring, mentoring, and intense interaction in the classroom as among the key features necessary to retain first-generation students. In other words, it's not enough just to help students get into an affordable college. Once accepted, we have to help them succeed. I've seen advising, special programs and small classes work wonders at Dominican University, where I teach, and we're just one of many student-oriented universities that provide great supports for students who need it. But such programs and low student-to-faculty ratios cost money, and across the country, cost-cutting is making it harder for such students to thrive.
In an original draft, I received some pushback from my editor for seeming too promotional, so I added the vague "we're just one of many ..." clause. Since the theme of the piece is "quality matters" not "Dominican is great," I didn't argue, but I had the sense that we really are pretty good at Dominican and that it's not an accident.

My Dean saw my CNN piece and sent me an essay by education reformer Michael Danneberg (his bio) that specifically praises Dominican for our graduation rate. Graduation rates cannot be compared just by numbers, of course, because they have to be normed against expectations. High achieving highschool students are, obviously, more likely to graduate. According to Danneberg, "Dominican has the highest completion rate of similar colleges nationwide that serve similar students with similar levels of academic preparation."

That's pretty exciting and is also news to me. We have wonderful students and I knew we were crushing the expected graduation rate (normed for wealth, race, first-generation, etc.), but not to this extent. Here's the whole section from in which Danneberg compares us to a rival school (sorry St. Xavier) that is not doing so well: Dannenberg writes, speculating about where a hypothetical Midwestern philanthropist should give his or her money [my emphasis]:
Our Midwestern philanthropist should consider contributing scholarship aid forundocumented and other needy students only to needy individual colleges and universities that make a “meaningful commitment to diversity” and education equity. In higher education, that means schools that serve minority and working class students and gets them through — to degree completion in comparable numbers.
It just so happens there’s a great example of such a school in the Chicago area and a nearby example of a not-so-great school when it comes to educational equity.
Both Dominican University and Saint Xavier University are pretty good non-profit, private colleges when it comes to access and enrollment of students from low-income and working class families. But check out Dominican’s completion rate as compared to Saint Xavier’s. Not only is Dominican higher, but there’s virtually no education equity gap between white and underrepresented minority students. In fact, Dominican has the highest completion rate of similar colleges nationwide that serve similar students with similar levels of academic preparation.
Our philanthropist, all education philanthropists, should consider giving to Dominican University and similar schools doing a relatively good job on educational equity. And in the process they should challenge nearby Saint Xavier University and similar schools to do a better job.

So how is this happening? I have some guesses.

We have a shield!
First, our students are great. But I assume that our peers also have great students, though perhaps some aspect of the admissions process comes into play. There could be some micro-demographic that shapes outcomes.

Second, we have robust systems that create links between advising, tutoring (academic enrichment), student services of all sorts (under the Dean of Students) and faculty. People do fail at Dominican, but no one falls through the cracks unnoticed. We notice. We intervene. We often succeed in helping people get back on track.

Third, as a professor, I can say that since my first day on campus, I've been inculcated in a culture based on "relationship-centered" teaching. That doesn't mean easy, but it does mean treating each student with respect and the attention they deserve.

Fourth, we have small classes and only teach 3 per term, not 4 or 5. That costs money, of course. It's money well spent according to these outcomes.

Fifth, we have great leadership, from our President on down. Here's a piece I wrote last summer about her decision to make Dominican a leader in educating undocumented students. She has a fine sense of the balance of mission and business. I don't always agree with her (no one should every always agree with their leaders!), but I do trust her.

At any rate, I'm thrilled to have the things we do well noticed by an outsider. Dear Anonymous Midwestern Philanthropists - we're ready for you to fund us!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Low Cost and High Quality - One without the other is meaningless

NOTE - This piece has been updated to remove a sentence in which I attributed ideas to Goldrick-Rab which she doesn't hold. I regret the error.

Yesterday I wrote a new piece for CNN, offering my take on the expanding debate about the cost of college.

Today, Bernie Sanders is going to file a 70 billion $ bill in the Senate to offer free public education to all Americans. That will be the latest move by Democrats to make the cost of college one of their issues. I expect to see Sanders debate Clinton (and whoever else) on debt-free vs free college. That's a good debate to have as the plans are different. I trust Sara Goldrick-Rab, who I quote in the piece, that we need to make sure to concentrate resources on those who need it most.

My mantra - Without investment in high quality education, lowering costs won't help those most in need.
I hope that the cost of college becomes a major political issue. But let's remember that low cost must be paired with high quality. High quality means providing good jobs for the people asked to prepare students for good jobs of their own. It means building educational structures with lots of face time, individualized education, and support systems for those new to learning. Otherwise, we can cut costs down to nothing, but we won't help the people most in need. To fix higher ed, the focus on savings must be accompanied by a massive public reinvestment in teaching and advising.
I'd like to ask for your help in making sure that when politicians start talking about cost, we ask them - who will be doing the teaching? Who will be doing the advising? Who will make sure that vulnerable students don't fall through the cracks?

Let's get to work.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Academic Freedom: How Duke Should Respond to Jerry Hough

Being a racist is not enough to invalidate academic freedom.

Jerry Hough, a Duke Professor, left a racist comment on a New York Times page. He is now reportedly on leave. Hough has denied he's a racist. From Slate:
Hough told both the local ABC and Fox affiliates that he was on leave after his comments, in which he identified himself as a Duke professor, raised uproar on campus. In emailed statements, the political science professor defended his comments, saying “Martin Luther King was my hero” and insisting he is “strongly against the toleration of racial discrimination.” The key question, though, according to Hough, “is whether my comments were largely accurate. In writing me, no one has said I was wrong, just racist.”
For the record. Dear Mr. Hough - You are wrong. Also, yes, they are racist. What's more, he has a history of making comments on race that betray a consistent rhetoric of racial inferiority for African Americans.

And yet, of course, I'm here to talk about academic freedom. As I've said many times, academic freedom does not guarantee complete impunity for consequences of one's speech. It does, however, guarantee due process and a very, very, high bar for any speech act to be determined as actionable by one's employer.

What happens next? Here's what I wrote about a homophobic FSU professor last fall.
[O'Connor] does not seem to have been granted the kind of due process usually called for by advocates of academic freedom. Indeed, one of the most consistent criticisms of the University of Illinois was that even if one believed that Salaita’s tweets constituted grounds for rescinding his job offer, he should have been allowed to respond to accusations as part of that process. I agree with that criticism. I wonder whether O’Connor was offered a process in the event she chose not to resign (FSU will not comment on personnel issues).

We discover the limitations of free speech, academic freedom, and civil liberties by wading in the muck of the margins.
There needs to be a clear process. The bar for firing someone over speech must be VERY high. My gut says that these comments do not clear that bar, as repellent as they are. My gut reaction though is irrelevant, as what matters here is process, transparency, and not letting an attack on Hough undermine a broader defense of academic freedom.

It's probable that no black student would want to take a class with Hough, but I'm troubled by the idea that a theoretical future "feeling uncomfortable" with a professor be allowed to enable firing, whether tenured or not. Because anyone could theoretically say that in the future they might feel uncomfortable with someone over their stated public positions; indeed, in other free-speech cases (Gundy, Salaita), groups of conservatives have made just that argument. A hypothetical future discomfort cannot be proven or disproven. It doesn't clear the bar.

But you know what does clear the bar? Discrimination. Hough has a long history of Duke. I believe it is now the job of the university to look for clear evidence of discrimination by Hough against black students (or any group of students). It's not about speech. It's about actions.

Also, I hate writing these posts. I really just want to shout and rant, but here I am again, wading in the much of the margins.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sunday Roundup: From Mad Max to the New York Times

I had three essays and seven blog posts this week, moderated a twitter chat, and went to a conference to give a talk and learn from my colleagues. Busy!

Here's the piece you probably didn't read:
My son is going to Zoo Camp. The Brookfield Zoo has a fantastic, fully inclusive, summer program which is based on the social model of disability. I also use the essay as a way to introduce social model/medical model of disability. 

My other two essays:
And my blog posts:
Up next, a New York Times piece (in the parenting section) and a CNN piece on higher education reform.

Friday, May 15, 2015

What Institutions Owe Public Scholars

Almost a year ago, I wrote about Steven Salaita being un-hired by the University of Illinois. I argued:
I come to this topic not as a partisan in the specifics of Salaita’s situation but as an advocate for faculty engagement with the public. Over the last year, I have written periodic columns for The Chronicle about the ways that academics can and should write for general audiences. Recently, I even suggested that "sustained public engagement" of any sort should count for hiring, tenure, and promotion.
When I write about this topic, I often get told that the real problem is that academics are snobs. We like living in an ivory tower, goes the argument, and we look with disdain on getting our hands dirty in the public sphere. There’s plenty of snobbery to go around, it’s true, but the Salaita affair shows a different, and I think more powerful, force that keeps many academics from commenting on important contemporary issues: fear.
I am a believe in and advocate four public engagement. But I try to overlook or understate the risks that public engagement brings, and regularly ask for universities to do more to support us. Unfortunately, it's going the other direction.
We need more public writing, not less. We need to open pathways for more academics to speak out in public, not punish Salaita for doing so in ways that have provoked such strong feelings. But we can’t ask scholars to embrace the risks of engagement in a system in which partisan bloggers and local papers can push timid administrators to fire, or in this case unhire, academics who leap into public debates.
Now Tressie McMillan Cottom, one of the smartest people around, has written a must read essay - Everything But the Burden in the context of Saida Gundy. She writes:
I have written about institutional marginality and neo-liberal appeals for scholars to “publicly engage”. If I could rewrite that article today I would ask how it is that there have been at least a dozen articles written about toxic black feminism on social media and black twitter but almost no articles on things like Twitchy. But, I digress.
What I really wanted to point out is how yet again we have an example of how woefully underprepared universities are to deal with the reality of public scholarship, public intellectuals, or public engagement.
She says: public scholarship means pissing people off.

She says: In academia, where twenty readers is a big deal, 200 angry emails can feel like a tsunami of public opinion (it isn’t). When three members of a committee can constitute a quorum, seeing 142 retweets of a negative opinion about your new assistant professor can feel like politics (it isn’t). Five whole think pieces at the online verticals of legacy media organizations can feel like the powers-that-be are censuring your institution (they aren’t).

Then she comes up with a series of steps you should take before publicly engaging. Demand your institution protects you if they want you to engage publicly. Read this one carefully.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Mad Max Fury Road - We Are Not Things

One definition of feminism: A critique of the gendered nature of power in a given society and a series
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa  in
'Mad Max: Fury Road' (2015). She holds a
rifle and is in front of an armored truck.
Courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures
of actions stemming from that critique.

In Mad Max Fury Road, as I wrote about in my new review from Vice, those actions involve writing "We are not things" on the harem floor and escaping in a WAR MACHINE with Imperator Furiosa to try and reach the Green Land.

Let's just say that the escape does not go smoothly.

This was my first feature movie review. I actually went to a theater and sat in a room mostly filled with other critics, most of whom knew each other. I, being gregarious, introduced myself to a man who turned out to be Brian Tallarico, editor of While my piece is an essay about feminism and movie history, he's written a great proper review for you to read. 4 out of 4 stars, so you can see he liked it too.

Mad Max is iconic, despite the failings of the third movie. My friend Sean, who is a bit older than me, saw the first two movies repeatedly as a teenager. He wrote me, "Our generation had the horror of Cold War gone wrong put squarely in front of us. Upbeat David Bowie videos had mushroom clouds in them, vigilantes were frequent TV heros, and Max Rockatansky showed us what life in the new world was going to be like."

It generated a huge wave of future nostalgia. Even now, there is a Society For Creative Anachronism-like group that gathers on Wasteland Weekend, recreating a future that hasn't happened yet, souping up cars, making costumes, and presumably consuming two-headed lizards for sustenance.

And now, we have a movie that at its core contains all the great elements of the first two Mad Max films - motion, cars, chrome, costumes, horror, death, disease, and hope. And there's a literal patriarchy (Immortan Joe and his sons) that needs to be smashed.

We are not things, say the women, and they prove their agency by what follows.


John Scalzi once wrote an essay about Ellen Ripley. Sadly, the essay is down, but over at his blog, he writes, [Note - Scalzi sent me the correct link to his essay and I fixed it here] "I talk about who is the best female science fiction film character in history (you should be able to guess from the picture and headline) and why that’s actually a problem for science fiction film — not for the character herself, but what it means for the genre."

UPDATE - Scalzi also sent me a link to this piece on Ripley "paving the way" for later heros.

I'm assuming the piece said that we have Ripley and then ... nothing. I'd add Sarah Connor in T2 to that last, but it's true that the film centers on John and the good Terminator, rather than Sarah. 

I feel Imperator Furiosa could give Ripley a run for her money. She is the center of this film. So much so, that there's a moment in which the fog has settled in and a bad guy is rushing towards the war machine, which is overheating and stopped. Max picks up a container of fuel and some weapons and walks off into the fog to deal with the problem. There's an explosion. Max walks back.

Notice that Miller didn't even film (or cut) the scene in which Max does something awesome, surging through the fog, fighting with knife and rope, setting the car on fire, dodging bullets, whatever. It's just an explosion. The whole scene remains focused on Furiosa and the others getting the car going again.

Max is a badass. But, at least in the final cut, the movie belongs to Furiosa. I do wonder at what point Miller decided to go that way, if there's a film in the editing room that makes Max the center, or if it was always written like this.

At any rate, I clearly like the movie. Please read and share my review, and thanks!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A User's Guide to Live-Tweeting the International Medieval Congress

Image: The word "Live" in red
stamped over the word "tweet." 
This weekend around three thousand medievalists - scholars and fans alike - will descend on the 50th Annual International Medieval Congress, a massive, interdisciplinary and relatively egalitarian academic gathering. It features a whopping 567 sessions, an outstanding book exhibit with new and used books from trade, university, and specialty used book stores, and many opportunities to network, socialize, and otherwise perform acts of conclave.
lovely campus of Western Michigan University. This is the 50th annual conference and I'm very much looking forward to it.

I will be in session 115 in Schneider 1140 (Thursday 3:30)
The Public Medievalist: A Roundtable on Engaging the Public with the Middle Ages 
Sponsor: Medieval Academy Graduate Student Committee
Organizer: Richard Barrett, Indiana Univ.–Bloomington
Presider: Stephanie Marie Rushe Chapman, Univ. of Missouri–Columbia
 A roundtable discussion with Bruce Holsinger, Univ. of Virginia; David Perry, Dominican Univ.; Susan Morrison, Texas State Univ.–San Marcos; Sandra Alvares,; and Paul Sturtevant, Smithsonian Institution
My remarks will, in a form, be published as part of a forum with postmedieval, at which point I will have more to say about that. I'm going to talk about the public/private register, what it means when you place yourself in the public one, and the obligation not to force people out of the private without permission.

I will be live-tweeting at least some of the time, and expect others of the medieval twitterati to do likewise. Live-tweeting is still a somewhat contested activity, I think because it changes a conference paper - a medium-stakes activity - into something with a more public and permanent register (the subject of my remarks, too). To defend against inadvertently doing this, I think the live-tweeter needs to limit himself/herself to relaying content, linking to relevant other material, perhaps asking questions, but not assessing the quality of talks on Twitter.

Here's Dorothy Kim from In the Middle - "A person live-tweeting a talk is...not your enemy." Please read it if you are going to Tweet (and her related The Rules of Twitter.) I also recommend reading it if you are concerned about other people Tweeting your talk.

One of the things I like about Kim's first piece, especially, is this:
The peculiar thing is, DH-style, intense live-tweeting reminds me most of medieval commentary practice. As a manuscript specialist, I spend a lot of time looking, reading, transcribing, and thinking about the physical manuscript medium. I am obsessed with the marginal and interlinear glosses and commentary as I am with the main text in a manuscript. If the medieval manuscript is a recording medium that allows scholar now to see the conversations and connected marginal glosses of individual readers, then twitter is the digital medium that replicates this practice the most but with comments all the time and in real time for individual thinkers. And like the medieval manuscripts that many of us work with (though we clearly don’t put in our own marginal commentaries anymore), twitter also records our short, marginal thoughts. Twitter as a medium also allows us to archive and record these conversations (vis-à-vis storify, etc.). For all these reasons, I adore twitter.
I like thinking of a live-tweet as a kind of first-take gloss. But remember that it is just a first take. If you really don't like the paper, if you think the paper is being delivered badly, if things seem disorganized, either close your laptop/ipad/phone or sit on your hands. If you can't tweet something nice (about a conference paper in this specific context), don't tweet anything at all.

And be mindful of power. The worst thing you could do is shame a graduate student or someone on the job market, making your off-the-cuff snark part of their permanent online record.
  • Tweet content: Person says ... 
  • Do not Tweet your personal critiques or make ad hominem remarks
  • Do link/raise questions that might lead off from the talk
  • Do not check your email or read facebook or whatever (it distracts your neighbors, just like students doing the same in your class)
  • For Kzoo, always use con-hashtag and session hashtag. I.e. mine is #kzoo2015 #s115 (this was a mess last year)
See you at the 'zoo!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Mad Max - In which I live-tweet the first three movies.

I am writing a review of Mad Max: Fury Road for Vice. To prepare, I recently watched all three original Mad Max films and live-tweeted them.

I was struck by levels of deep concept and artistry in 1 and 2, and how 3 really moved another direction (with Tina Turner, a huge soundtrack, and a lot of stagnant scenes in Barter Town). Even it has its good qualities.

Here are the storifies of my tweets.

#WJCHAT - Disability and Journalism

Tomorrow at 5 P.M. PT I will be guest hosting #wjchat, a "chat for web journalists on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. PT. We talk about all things content, technology, ethics, & business of journalism on the web." The topic will be disability and journalism.

I invite people from he disability community to join and talk to journalists about what's going on with disability-related journalism and how we can all do it better. I also ask that you be prepared to listen, and to help make this a useful teaching moment.

See you tomorrow night!

#ISupportSaida - Here We Go Again

Here we go again. An incoming professor of color, Saida Gundy, made comments that were, at most, provocative. She said that white, college age males, were a problem population (that's the provocative one). She also said that white men are responsible for slavery and its legacy in this country (that's indisputably true).

I'm not linking to the right-wing sites organizing a systematic harassment of her on Twitter and at Boston University, where she works. It follows predictable patterns. BU said - “The University does not condone racism or bigotry in any form and we are deeply saddened when anyone makes such offensive statements."

I'm glad they are protecting her job. I'm angry that they have conceded she is racist or bigoted. The pressure will continue for awhile and it's important for academics to say publicly, if they can, that they support academic freedom. I also think it's important for historians to say that the acknowledgment of white responsibility for slavery is neither racist nor (in my case) white guilt, but simply true. The intersections of white supremacy and patriarchy are, indeed, a problem. To say so isn't racist. Furthermore, the pursuit of this professor falls into the persistent pattern of conservatives formally and informally targeting professors of color, especially women.

I do think that for all its unfortunate outcome for both the individual and institution, the Salaita affair has prepared the academic social web to respond to these incidents in ways that we might not have been a year ago. It's certainly given me practice at my rhetoric and forced me to refine my principals. In fact, I went on record defending the right of a conservative professor to due process in this essay.

When it comes to free speech and academic freedom, here's my mantra:  If we do not stand on principle for people with whom we disagree, we have no principles.

And so it is irrelevant whether or not I stand with Saida and whether or not I agree with what she says. I stand with her on principle. I also stand with her against this relentless harassment. I stand with her because the acknowledgment of the ongoing power of white supremacy is not racist. I stand with her because the targeting of vulnerable professors of color must stop.

Here's a coda from Inside Higher Ed with good points from Academe Blog and FIRE.
Robert Shibley, executive director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said he suspected Grundy’s case will end here but that “experience has taught me to fear” otherwise.
The tweets that have been made public “certainly constitute protected speech under the First Amendment,” Shibley said. But one of Boston’s computing policies, which prohibits the dissemination of “offensive, annoying or harassing material,” he added, “arguably allows the university to punish her, should she decide to tweet similar things over the university network and should someone find her opinion ‘annoying.’”
That computer-speech policy, Shibley said, “should be revised to be consistent with BU's promise of ‘an atmosphere of unfettered free inquiry and exposition’ for its professors.” Of course, since Boston is a private institution, it doesn't have to follow First Amendment standards, necessarily, just contractual ones -- even if FIRE and others think it should.
But what about the concerns that Grundy’s position may make her biased against white male students, and therefore affect her teaching? John Wilson, co-editor of the American Association of University Professors’ "Academe" blog and an independent scholar of academic freedom, called such an argument -- which he said was used against Salaita by Illinois -- “utterly wrong.”
“If you say that alleged bigotry expressed in personal remarks disqualifies a professor from teaching, then virtually all professors would need to be fired,” he said. “Faculty who oppose gay marriage would be biased against [gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender] students. Faculty who criticize Islamic terrorism would be biased against Muslim students. Faculty who are fundamentalist Christians and believe that atheists, Jews, etc. will be condemned to eternal hell might be feared by Jewish or non-Christian students. Faculty who criticize Israel or Palestine might be biased.”
The only way to know, Wilson added, "whether Grundy's classes are taught with an illegitimate bias that violates the rights of her students is by looking at her teaching, not her tweets. But you can't assume that controversial professors are bad teachers. Quite the opposite is usually true.”
At the same time, he said, Boston should be free to criticize Grundy’s tweets, as long as it makes clear she won’t be penalized in any way for them.
We want faculty with views, opinions, and arguments. We want to defend faculty who make such arguments. Whether we agree with them or not.

And so #ISupportSaida.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The New York Times Confirms Academic Stereotypes: Two months of opinion essays on higher education.

Having encountered yet another elite R1 professor telling us what we, professors in general, are doing wrong, I thought I'd take a few moments and survey the NYT Opinion Page on Higher Education. I may write something longer and more formal on what I found.

I have to tell you that I'm angry, and I'm angry in an unproductive way, making it hard for me to hear people praising these essays without snapping at them rudely. I do not feel at all civil. I'll work on reclaiming my usual measured pace.

Over the past two months, there have been nine opinion essays published by the Times directly on Higher Ed that I've seen. A few Room for Debates have addressed higher-ed issues, and of course lots and lots of professors have written opinion essays during that time. I made a quick skim of two months of all the opinion essays with the word "professor" in them. I saw zero by community college or lower-status teaching school profs, zero by branch campus public profs, and a handful by top liberal arts schools (Smith, Dickinson) or lower-tier R1 publics (Colorado State, South Carolina). A friend (here's the tweet with the data, with permission) found about 300 mentions of community colleges to 12000 for just Harvard alone. It's a problem.

Here are the nine essays with a few links and comments. More to come on this I suspect. This is just our sample to consider.
  1. "What's the Point of a Professor" - Big Sunday OpEd In which Emory professor Mark Bauerlein blames kids these days and professors for having surrendered moral authority, and suggests things like harder grading and more intense meeting with each student on a regular basis. My critique - think about the way that 90% of all faculty and most students are so heavily pressured by outside forces. For more on Bauerlein, read this first.
  2. "The Big Problem with the New SAT" - By U-Cal President Emeritus and a Berkeley Researcher. "The revised SAT takes promising steps away from its provenance as a test of general ability or aptitude — a job it never did well — and toward a test of what students are expected to learn in school. But the College Board should abandon the design that holds it back from fulfilling that promise."
  3. "How To Attract Female Engineers." - By Berkeley "Innovation Director" - Lina Nilsson. "It shows that the key to increasing the number of female engineers may not just be mentorship programs or child care centers, although those are important. It may be about reframing the goals of engineering research and curriculums to be more relevant to societal needs. It is not just about gender equity — it is about doing better engineering for us all."
  4. "The Conference Manifesto." Princeton Professor Christy Wampole. I said a lot about it here. Big Sunday OpEd.
  5. "Philosophy Returns to the Real World." Dickinson College professor Crispin Saltwell. This is a major exception to the overall trend of what academics get to publish at NYT, whether about higher ed or not. "For me, a large part of the motivation was simply to find a way to keep on writing and doing philosophy. I ran out of interest in my own consciousness around 1990, but there’s no reason ever to run out of interest in the world. The intellectual generation that came after pomo had to find a way to keep going after the period after the end. The period after the period after the end is the popomo era. But the “post” was always itself a symptom of a sense of decline and ending, and I do hope and think that our period of inquiry doesn’t just come after something, but that it is itself something, and that it comes before something."
  6. "The Real Reason College Tuition Costs So Much." Paul Campos, professor at Colorado - Boulder. Here's a critique of why this was so wrong. He said it was administrative bloat. He's wrong, not that there aren't problems with staffing organization worth considering. Big Sunday OpEd.
Non-academics on Higher Ed
  1. Judith Shulevitz re-ignited the whole trigger warnings debate. Students, you are cowards, she says, in a piece full of scorn. Shulevitz  is not an academic, but is a well-known writer who frequently writes for the Times.
  2.  Joe Nocera gave Kevin Carey's The End of College a glowing write-up.
  3. And Nick Kristof said nice things about the humanities. He talked to one professor at Harvard. As a reminder, when he said, "Professors, we need you," he talked only to profs at Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford.
Campos, Wampole, and Bauerlein stand out to me. Big Sunday pieces with huge flaws. Wampole and Bauerlein have a kind of ignorance, perhaps a performative one, in their pieces, of the world outside of their privileged bubble. Campos gets facts simply wrong.

Note that these three pieces confirm the worst stereotypes about students, professors, and administrators, all on the widely-read op-ed page of the paper of record.

New Mantra: If an Elite R1 prof wants to take to the NYT to tell other elite R1 profs that they should concentrate more on teaching, please proceed. If you feel like writing an essay that punches down at the rest of us in any way, or worst doesn't seem to recognize that the rest of us even exist, that there's any kind of academic experience outside your own, just keep it to yourself.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Weekly Roundup - Conferences, Compliance, and Freddie Gray

Happy Mother's Day. I planted lilacs, and then together we filled in our flower and vegetable garden. This morning, I'm making two kinds of crepes - sweet (with nutella or fruit or jam) and speck + cheese savory ones. I also ground a lamb leg recently and made sausage, and am considering whether some of that meat might go into dinner in some fashion.

This week I spent a lot of my time on academic issues, including in meetings and beginning to prepare for next Fall. I also wrote about The Academic Conference - A Defense both here and at the Chronicle, followed by the important blog - Conferences and Cost for the Precariat.

On Thursday, I'll be heading off to a huge annual conference, the International Medieval Congress at Western Michigan University, in Kalamazoo, MI. About three thousand medievalists will be there, which will include professors and students, but also just people who like the Middle Ages. I'll be talking about being a public medievalist, and plan to post something important about changing registers (public/private) and raising stakes, so please watch for that.

Conferences are the reason I have a scholarly career. I am grateful to them and to the people who made them possible. Rants like the NYT piece emerge from a kind of Princeton Privilege (and other elite R1s) in which sharing ennui in the paper of record seems like a good idea, but is really a form of punching down.

Meanwhile, I wrote three disability pieces:
Thanks for reading!

Friday, May 8, 2015

#CultOfCompliance - Oregon Prisons and Mental Disabilities

Prisons are the asylums of our age. We just don't call them that. Then, when people with mental disabilities end up incarcerated, they are horrifically vulnerable to abuse from both prison employees and other prisoners. Moreover, prison staff even when not intentionally abusive, are not well-trained in responding to the needs of people with disabilities, so they use the tools with which they are familiar - enforced compliance, pain and isolation.

From Oregon Public Radio:

Prisoners with severe mental illness are routinely tasered, pepper-sprayed, isolated, and denied access to adequate mental health care - according to a new report by Disability Rights Oregon.
Disability Rights looked at the Behavioral Health Unit at the Oregon State Penitentiary.
That’s where prisoners with severe mental illness, who’ve committed violent crimes, are often placed.
Sarah Radcliffe, an attorney with Disability Rights, says they found prisoners being held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day; and an imbalance of power between security and medical staff, which led to inadequate mental health care. “And we also found that prisoners in this unit are subjected to frequent unnecessary use of force, by staff, often in response to behaviors that are related to their mental illnesses,” she said.
The whole report from DRO is here in pdf.

We have to rebuild our whole mental system from the ground up with massive community-based supports, as part of the path of ending mass incarceration.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Conferences and Cost for the Precariat

Yesterday at the Chronicle of Higher Education, I had a new piece defending academic conferences. I talk about the kinds of benefits I've seen from conferences. I critique a recent New York Times piece that argues the conference is a boondoggle that nevertheless fills the author with ennui. First, let me share Carrie Schroeder's tweet (by permission), then explore the an aspect I left out of my CHE piece (I only had 1000 words) - cost - and talk about it a little more.

Conferences are expensive. If, indeed, they are necessary and important as I argue in my CHE piece, then we have to be concerned about the way those expenses fall most heavily on adjuncts, graduate students, and people at low-paying jobs without adequate conference funding. I have a low-paying job in comparison to other tenure-stream faculty, but we happen to have excellent conference funding, and it's made all the different in my career. I know most people aren't so lucky.

I have written repeatedly about the need to strip the hiring fair components out of academic conferences, and that at least would help remove some mandatory costs from the process of seeking academic work. But if conferences matter for scholarship and growth, as I argue, then that's not enough. We also have to work as hard as possible to keep costs low or even zero for people who have the least money.

Here are three steps:

First - lower fees for adjuncts, independent scholars, and graduate students (EDIT - And low-compensated NTT folks like many post-docs). Many conferences do that already. Here's a petition asking conferences to do lower fees. Consult your particular scholarly organizations and make sure that they have an appropriate fee range, zeroing out costs as much as possible for those who can least afford it.

At Midwest Medieval History Conference, which I ran last fall and of which am now president, we lowered costs for adjuncts, grad students, and independent scholars, and gave a $150 stipend to our graduate student presenters. That, of course, has financial implications for the group and probably bumped everyone else's fees up about 5$. I'm comfortable paying that extra 5$.

Second - Valorize things that replicate the function of conferences (sharing work, getting feedback, networking) but that don't require physical travel. Organizing and hosting a serious ongoing online discussion on Twitter (or wherever) about academic issues is certainly as important a work as organizing a panel in meatspace. Moreover, sharing works in progress and receiving feedback can be done virtually. I am, obviously, a defender of the conference, but let's make sure that if people find other, more affordable, ways to replicate their function, we treat them as "real."

Third - I think it's vital that when people do go to conferences, their experiences are meaningful. The vast majority of responses to my questions spoke positively of conferences, talking about how important it was - whatever stage or status my interlocutors had - to engage with scholarly community. The few dissenting voices, though, spoke of hierarchy. They felt ignored and alienated, isolated from the conversational and scholarly centers in the cliques, and not provided with the kind of connections that I talk about as so important in my Chronicle piece.

That's a real problem, especially if one is spending out of pocket to attend the conference, hoping to gain feedback and network. I think it's vital for conference organizers to be intentional about this sort of thing and for people at the top of the hierarchy to go out of their way to talk to grad students, adjuncts, and the broader precariat.

This is also why small conferences matter to me much more than big ones. An all-plenary conference of 50 people provides me with vastly more new connections and exposures to new ideas than a conference with 5000 people and 20 competing concurrent tracks of sessions. When we're all spending a few days working together, sharing coffee breaks, with a finite group of people, it tends to erode social hierarchy. Or at least it can. We can all be more intentional about making sure that conference experiences are meaningful for everyone who attends.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Freddie Gray and Disability

When Eric Garner's killers were not charged, I wrote a piece for CNN about the intersection of disability and race in his and other deaths at the hands of law enforcement.

Ever since I heard that Freddie Gray asked for an inhaler before the police closed the door on the van and began give him his (alleged) rough ride, I've been pretty sure that the same lens applies to his death.

That sentiment was confirmed by an excellent piece on Gray's lead paint poisoning a few weeks ago in the Washington Post.
“There was a big hole when you go up the steps,” Gray recalled in 2009. “There was a couple of walls that wasn’t painted all the way, peeled. . . . And like the windows, paint was peeling off the windows.”
Before Freddie Gray was injured in police custody last month, before he died and this city was plunged into rioting, his life was defined by failures in the classroom, run-ins with the law and an inability to focus on anything for very long.
 Many of those problems began when he was a child and living in this house, according to a 2008 lead-poisoning lawsuit filed by Gray and his siblings against the property owner. The suit resulted in an undisclosed settlement.
Reports of Gray’s history with lead come at a time when the city and nation are still trying to understand the full ramifications of lead poisoning. Advocates and studies say it can diminish cognitive function, increase aggression and ultimately exacerbate the cycle of poverty that is already exceedingly difficult to break.
It is nonetheless hard to know whether Gray’s problems were exclusively borne of lead poisoning or were the result of other socioeconomic factors as well. From birth, his was a life of intractable poverty that would have been challenging to overcome.
It's impossible to point to a single factor and say - lead paint! Or - poverty! Or - racism! That's why intersectionality matters. We don't have to, and shouldn't, because that's not how humans work. Each of us is shaped by intersecting factors, and for Gray, those intersections proved fatal.
“Jesus,” Dan Levy, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University who has studied the effects of lead poisoning on youths, gasped when told of Gray’s levels. “The fact that Mr. Gray had these high levels of lead in all likelihood affected his ability to think and to self-regulate and profoundly affected his cognitive ability to process information.”
Levy added, “And the real tragedy of lead is that the damage it does is irreparable.”
By the time Gray and his family moved into the hovel on North Carey Street, which became the subject of the subsequent litigation, the amount of lead in his system had fallen. But he and his sisters began developing problems.
His sister, Fredericka, developed issues with aggression, Gray said in a 2009 deposition. “She still got problems like that,” he said. “She still do. She always was the aggressive one. She liked to fight all the time and all of that.”
Equally troubling was the children’s performance in the classroom. The twins and an older sister were diagnosed with either ADHD or attention-deficit disorder ADD, and Fredericka’s academic career was “riddled with suspensions,” court records say.
It wasn’t any better for Freddie, who never graduated high school and was often absent from his studies because of truancy or suspensions. “All the schools that I went to, I was in special education,” Gray said.
Today in the Baltimore Sun, there's a letter Zosia Zaks, who is the manager of programs and education at Towson University's Hussman Center for Adults with Autism and also teaches disability studies courses. Zaks writes:
Why is no one discussing Freddie Gray's disabilities? Historically, disabled persons have had a higher risk for ineffective interactions with law enforcement personnel. Recent examples in our geographic area include the cases of Nellie Latson and Robert Saylor. This is not to discount factors of racism at all. But disability discrimination or "ableism" is the most hidden "ism" of all and our society is just not dealing with it. In Freddie Gray's case, racial discrimination is compounded by disability discrimination and when we ignore this fact, any solution to the problem of police bias and brutality will be incomplete.
The police must be trained in how to respond to individuals with developmental disabilities of all races. This does not mean we make excuses for the actions of adults with disabilities — visible or invisible. All adults must be held to the same standards of the law. What is does mean is that people who communicate, think, learn and emote differently must have the accommodations, supports and guidance needed to level the playing field. This also means that civil workers in a city like Baltimore in which hundreds of children have sustained lead poisoning must receive training to ensure public safety for all citizens.
We have been promising persons with disabilities the right to full community integration for decades. This promise rings hollow when society refuses to analyze and to discuss openly how we collectively and personally respond to the diversity of disability.
Readers of this blog will know how wholeheartedly I back Zaks' analysis here. It's vital to include the disability lens in our understanding both of this tragedy and how to reduce the risk of these incidents in the future.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Academic Conference - A Defense

Yesterday a professor at Princeton saw fit to ask in the New York Times "What is the purpose of the conference?" She meant is as a setup for a rant about how boring they are all are, writing:
If everyone is content with the conference as a legitimate custom, why do post-conference sentiments typically range from disappointment to total rage, always expressed in hushed tones?
Yes, sometimes papers are boring and people ask bad questions. I loved Mallory Ortberg's piece "Every Question in Every Q&A Session Ever," which makes some of the same points as this NYT piece and is, in my opinion, much funnier (Ortberg is one of my favorite comedy writers online).

I'm going to say more about this NYT piece later, but let me ask you this.

1. Do you leave a conference typically filled with disappointment to total rage? 

I never have. Rage, really? Sometimes the papers are better than other, but I always leave conferences ready to work, to be a scholar.

2. Are most questions, in your experience, self-aggrandizing or distracted mutterings? 

In my experience, I think something like 98% of all questions are good ones. In fact, I am hard pressed right now to remember a bad one (I do remember bad papers, but they are by far the tiny minority).

But that's just my experience. Maybe I've lived a charmed life. What about you? Rage?

Monday, May 4, 2015

There is No Autism Epidemic

How we talk about disability matters. For example, I have often criticized Autism Speaks and anti-vax groups (not the same - AS is not AntiVax, they have other problems) for the way they talk about autism as a disease needing a cure. I assure you, my autistic friends are not diseased. Moreover, it's absolutely clear that autism rates - in terms of numbers of diagnoses - are skyrocketing. The question is why. Antivax folks say it's because of vaccinations (N.B. It's not). Autism Speaks says, I believe, that they don't know why the "epidemic" is happening and they need to study it and stop it.

Meanwhile, the counter-argument is that there is no autism epidemic, we are just diagnosing it more accurately and have expanded the definitions.

Here's a new large-scale study from Sweden. It took ten years and nearly 20,000 twins (190 with autism) and all children in Sweden (over a million, 4000 with autism) and concluded this:
The prevalence of the autism symptom phenotype has remained stable in children in Sweden while the official prevalence for registered, clinically diagnosed, autism spectrum disorder has increased substantially. This suggests that administrative changes, affecting the registered prevalence, rather than secular factors affecting the pathogenesis, are important for the increase in reported prevalence of autism spectrum disorder.
We are diagnosis autism differently as our understanding of the neurological condition has developed. Many, many, more people are being diagnosed as on the spectrum, and this is a good thing, as it enables neurotypical society to become more accepting and more inclusive of a wider range of behaviors. For autistic people who benefit from various kinds of therapies, and some certainly do (this is a controversial issue I'll save for another post), a diagnosis enables a therapist to work with them correctly.

So let me say it again:

1) More accurate diagnosis of autism is a good thing.
2) There is no autism epidemic

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Sunday Roundup - Ethics in Journalism and Other Stories

This week I got very mad at the Washington Post for sharing a document intended to provide the police with an exculpatory narrative in the case of Freddie Gray.
We afford the police a lot of respect in terms of creating narratives. I think that has to stop. Not just because of Freddie Gray, but also Jeremy Hutton, a man with Down syndrome shot in 2010
I was pleased about Accountability - Justice for Freddie Gray - Marilyn Mosby
I was pleased about how Phil Plait Apologized for Transphobia

I am mixed in my reaction to the (for DC Super Hero Girls. Also this blog - Comics and Sexism - DC Hero Girls.

And puzzled about the best way to engage with Disability Abortion Narratives.

Meanwhile, academia displeases me.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Penn State: Shared Governance Only When Faculty Comply

Larry Backer is a named law professor at Penn State and a former chair of the Faculty Senate. These credentials matter, because when he attacks the faux system of shared governance at Penn State, as he does in this blog post, it might get taken seriously.

The piece is a long discussion of a recent issue in which the administration rejected Faculty Senate recommendations. It's a well-sourced piece, with links to many important pieces about the failures of Faculty Governance, and I recommend you read it. Here are a few quotes worth highlighting:
The administration had taken the decisions it announced at the meeting well beforehand, and had taken the time to craft a carefully constructed explanation, neither the decision nor a copy of the remarks were made available to Senate leadership before thew [sic] actual presentation.
That's faux-shared-governance. It's announced at the Faculty Senate, but decided in closed meetings long before. The Senate becomes a place where decisions are read at Faculty.
The role of the Senate appears increasingly to receive information rather than engage with it in the context of policy making (discussed here).
This is not shared governance, but the Faculty senate as a human email list, where memos are distributed.
Shared governance increasingly appears to mean the forms through which selected faculty chosen for their technical proficiency or other attributes, are appointed to committees directed by and for the attainment of administrative objectives. Short comment opportunities may be afforded the institutional voice of the faculty, but the understanding is that the policy has been chosen and only technical corrections will be entertained. Policy is beyond the reach of the faculty (Discussed here).
This is my concern about the task-force model that my university is increasingly using. It frequently involves un-elected faculty being appointed to consider important things (for no compensation/time off). It's a model that dodges shared governance. At Penn State, a "large and complex" institution, these issues are even more acute. Talented faculty - and PSU has lots of them - are plucked out to run various things or lend their expertise, but there's no real governance.

And speaking of "large and complex..."
The phrase "this is a large and complex institution" is not meant as a description of an institution, it is meant as a barrier to effective engagement. Administration is now the domain of specialists who, through their intense and superior knowledge, have become the high priests of the cult religion of university operation.
Nothing to add here. Or here [his emphasis]:
Policy is for the administrative apparatus--for the faculty there is only an opportunity to engage in technical review. The mechanics of power nicely masks its objective--to produce an optics of complicity in policy formation stripped of any authority to actually contribute to policy.
Finally, on a note of non-optimism:
 Penn State, of course, is neither exceptional nor notable for these changes.  It represents merely one illustration of a much more profound development in the organization and operation of academic institutions....It is unlikely that, except at the margins, the process is either reversible or likely to change course.  
It is important, I think, to recognize the lack of shared governance lying behind overt principles of shared governance, to call them out for what they are, and to try to work at the margins as best as one can.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Comics and Sexism - DC Hero Girls

The world of comics, from Hollywood to the toys you buy for infants, is packs with sexism. Last January, I shared a letter from and 11-year-old girl to DC Comics, asking them to merchandise more girl-related products. 

The letter went viral. Now DC has released the "Hero Girls," a pretty great line of products. They actually emailed me and Rowan's parents specifically to let us know about it. 

For Salon, I have a piece on sexism in the comics world. Can the Hero Girls save the day? The answer is maybe - they are good products, but are still part of the sexist world in which they were made. 
Image Description: Five super hero girls soaring off in five different directions.

I write:
Overall, I’m pleased. The aesthetic is athletic and non-sexualized. It fills a huge void, appealing to girls who want characters with whom they can identify. I’m the father of a six-year-old girl who likes nothing better than to grab a helmet, cape, Thor hammer, Hawkeye bow, and go fight bad-guys. She’s happy to play with toys associated with male heroes, but she does ask about the girls. I expect to be sending DC a lot of money on this new line.
Diane Nelson, President of DC Entertainment, proclaimed Hero Girls, “just for girls.” This exclusivity has sparked some debate about the consequences of segregating products by gender. They may be good products, but it’s revealing that DC is answering the call for better gender balance by creating girl-only products. Such characters provide role-models that otherwise were missing, but also perpetuate the assumption that boys can’t identify with girl heroes, and that truly co-ed teams of superheroes are impossible to market to kids.
Please read and share the original piece at Salon. Freelancers depend on clicks and shares to get asked to write again!