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The 2016 ASA Scavenger Hunt

Over the past few weeks my inbox has been inundated with people saying things like “You haven’t posted much lately but I hope that you’ll still do the ASA Scavenger Hunt!” and “MAGIKARP DEMANDS TO KNOW WHEN THE SCAVENGER HUNT WILL BE POSTED!!!” and “Find the best Medicare supplement plan.”* Fear not, readers, on the eve of the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting, the hunt is ready to be scavenged. Use a Sharpie to cross off completed items on your computer or mobile phone or, if you prefer, download a PDF version here.

2016 ASA Scavenger Hunt

  1. Attend a friend’s presentation even though it is outside of your area
  2. See somebody playing Pokémon Go during a session
  3. Make a joke about economists
  4. Attend the Sociologists for Justice session on Saturday night
  5. Attend a talk in which the presenter is reading from his or her paper with no apparent preparation
  6. Check out the poster presentations
  7. Time how long it takes the ASA app to load when you haven’t used it recently
  8. Attend a session with fewer than five audience members
  9. Go to a business meeting and sign up for a committee
  10. Overhear a sociologist make a racist/sexist/homophobic (etc.) comment
  11. Talk to somebody about SJMR
  12. Ask a good question in a session
  13. Look at somebody’s nametag in an obvious way
  14. Find the unisex restrooms and rate their implementation on a scale of 1-10
  15. Attend DAN and/or a department reception
  16. Get a free drink at a section reception
  17. Go to the blogging party, say you’re John Smith
  18. Talk to somebody from a liberal arts school about his or her research
  19. Talk to somebody from a research school about his or her teaching
  20. Talk to somebody on the job market about his or her ideal job
  21. Introduce two people you know to each other
  22. For Faculty: Buy a student coffee or a meal; For Students: Accept coffee or a meal from a faculty member
  23. Eat a meal alone, confidently
  24. Talk to somebody whose name you can’t remember
  25. Post on social media about ASA
  26. Catch up with a colleague from another institution
  27. Visit the Space Needle
  28. Spend an entire day in Seattle without attending a session
  29. Get a coffee at Starbucks, ironically
  30. Complain about the heat

*Only one of these is an actual e-mail I received.


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Two tales of tenure denial

The goal of being on the tenure track is to receive tenure and there is lots of available advice about how to do that. There is less information available about what happens when tenure is denied. Even when our colleagues are denied tenure, it can be hard to find out the details while respecting the fact that they likely do not want to talk about the situation. For these reasons, recent guest posts at Historiann and a blog started in May by Jennifer Diascro are intriguing (and often frustrating and devastating).

“Hannah” at Historiann recounts her experience with a Dean who seemed to be against her case from the start, despite the support of colleagues, and her successful appeal the next year. Diascro, who had been previously tenured at the University of Kentucky, details her experiences with tenure denial at American University where the messages she received from her colleagues leading up to the tenure decision directly contradicted their recommendation. Hannah’s account is interesting, but Diascro’s is even more illuminating due to her willingness to post many of the documents from her tenure case at AU.

Both stories have (eventual) happy endings, which probably makes their authors more willing to share their experiences but makes them no less illuminating.


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ESPN’s recent documentary, O.J.: Made in America provides an excellent look at the complicated intersections of race and class in the U.S. The five-part series documents how O.J. Simpson rose to fame as a Heisman trophy winner at USC, the first NFL player to rush for over 2,000 yards in a season, and a trend-setting spokesperson for various corporations.

Born in the San Francisco projects, Simpson’s trajectory mirrors that of many Horatio Alger characters. That it occurred in the 1960s made Simpson a perfect example for those who argued (like many today) that if Blacks would just keep their heads down, work hard, and buy into the values of White America, success and acceptance would follow. Interviews from the time indicate that Simpson largely bought into this idea himself.

For me, the relationship between Simpson and race was the most interesting aspect of the documentary. His charisma and success on the football field allowed him to largely transcend the racial restrictions of the time and live a life surrounded by wealthy Whites. Despite this, the trial for the murders he committed (and nearly everybody in the documentary – even his friends – is convinced that he committed them) became a referendum on race in L.A. following the Rodney King trial. Anger at the LAPD’s racial injustice led to a nation that was sharply divided along racial lines about Simpson’s acquittal by a mostly-Black jury but the trial also made Simpson Black again in the eyes of the public and a pariah among his former White friends.

Today, Simpson is in prison as a result of a ridiculously long sentence for a relatively minor crime in which he attempted to steal sports memorabilia that he believed had been stolen from him. Those in the documentary believe that this sentence is essentially payback for Simpson getting away with murder, which was itself payback for Rodney King. Some even blame Simpson’s mid-’90s trial for exacerbating the racial divide in the U.S. The juxtaposition of White and Black interviewees and their views on particular issues is also revealing, even if the conclusions that I took from these comparisons are not likely those that members of the Trump demographic are likely to draw.

Overall, I highly recommend all five parts. I watched most of them on demand through my cable provider and they are also available on ESPN’s Watch ESPN website. Be aware, though, that there are a number of descriptions (including recordings of 911 calls) of Simpson’s domestic violence prior to the murders and a few extremely graphic images of the murdered bodies of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman that I had to look away from during the discussion of the trial. There may be some short portions that could be used for class discussions, though the issues involved are probably best considered with a complete viewing.


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Since my days in graduate school I have sought opportunities to learn some new information. Whether this is attending a presentation, joining a reading group, or signing up for a workshop, I’ve done a lot of things not because they were particularly important to my success but because they sounded interesting or fun. (The fact that I have a high tolerance for boredom also works in my favor, since the snippets of useful information are often surrounded by useless information.) This semester, though, I think I have found the limits of demands on my time. Between preparing for class, meeting with students, grading, writing, and trying to get a new research project started, I have finally reached the point where I literally do not have time for a lunchtime discussion of teaching or a book discussion about gender.

Luckily, student meetings are winding down just as midterms are ramping up. I would look forward to spring break if I didn’t have so much work to do during it! In the future I may have to reduce some of my teaching efforts in order to increase my sanity (and, you know, the chance of getting tenure).


 

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What counts (and when)?

At my previous institution, a few peer-reviewed publications and evidence of continued “scholarly activity” (such as conference presentations) were enough for tenure. These publications could be on any topic in any publication as long as it was peer-reviewed. At my current institution, the picture is considerably less clear.

The major change is in what counts and how much. As at many institutions, all peer-reviewed publications are not created equally. Nobody is expected to publish in ASR or AJS but things like impact factor are considered. The type of research also matters. As one colleague stated, publishing in outlets like Teaching Sociology is like a cherry on top of a sundae, but it isn’t the sundae. They also like to see progress in these areas, so one high-profile publication followed by three lower-ranking publications is not as desirable as the reverse would be.

All of this makes the publication gauntlet that much more daunting. There is also uncertainty, though, about when one wants things to be accepted and published while moving along the tenure track. The third-year review, for example, is less of a formality and essentially the same in practice as the tenure review (requiring the exact same documents). This means that publications are essential for passing the third-year review but there are cases in which individuals with a few publications at this point neglected to tell the tenure and promotion committee about a paper that had been recently accepted so that it would be seen as “new” at the tenure review.

The final issue that I’ve encountered is a lack of information about what actually counts as “published.” Accepted papers do not seem to have the same weight as those that have actually been published (indicated in the fact that they are not requested as part of the review). “Published,” though, encompasses a wide variety of things today. Some journals have long lead times before publication in print, others have long lead times but “online first” availability in the meantime, and others have short lead times (or even all-online publishing) but questionable impact factors.

Together, these factors make a process that I breezed through at my previous institution much more stressful (I haven’t even had time to work on my time machine!).


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A recent discussion on campus alerted me to the fact that mentoring has changed. Models with a single assigned mentor (or anti-mentor) are no longer preferred. Instead, everybody should have lots of mentoring relationships in which all partners mutually benefit. The result is “mutual mentoring.” According to the NEA’s summary, mutual mentoring involves:

  • mentoring partnerships that include a wide variety of individuals—peers, near peers, tenured faculty, chairs, administrators, librarians, students, and others;
  • mentoring approaches that accommodate the partners’ personal, cultural, and professional preferences for contact (e.g., one-on-one, small group, team, and/or online);
  • partnerships that focus on specific areas of experience and expertise, rather than generalized, “one-size-fits-all” knowledge;
  • a reciprocity of benefits between the person traditionally known as the “protégé” and the person traditionally known as the “mentor;” and
  • perhaps most importantly, new and under-represented faculty members who are not seen or treated solely as the recipients of mentoring, but as the primary agents of their own career development.

All of these things sound great! Who will be arranging these relationships for me?

That, apparently, is my responsibility. Here are “some good first steps to create a Mutual Mentoring network of your own”:

  • If your department already has a formal mentoring program in place, take advantage of it, but keep in mind that the mentor chosen for you, or by you, as part of this program should not be your only source of professional support.
  • Ask some key colleagues whom they think you should approach about your specific subjects of interest. Keep in mind that there are many different ways that you can “click” with a mentoring partner. Who teaches classes similar in size to yours? Who uses a particular classroom technology that you’re interested in adopting? Who seems like the best overall personality match?
  • Identify near peers (colleagues who are close to your career level). Near peers can be particularly valuable because their experiences as newcomers are still reasonably fresh. Helpful “global” questions to ask near peers include: What do you wish you would have known when you first arrived? What is the most valuable thing you’ve done in support of your teaching?
  • Look for mentoring partners outside the faculty ranks. A talented, tech-savvy student may help you navigate a new class management system, while a librarian specializing in your discipline may be able to recommend hard-to-find resources.

I don’t think that new faculty should shirk the responsibility of forming networks and I also recognize that some of these are relationships that many people already have being recast as mentoring, but there also seems to be a disconnect between people saying “we’ve recognized that the best way to be successful here is to meet a lot of people inside and outside of the institution who can help you in different areas” and following that up with, “good luck finding them!” In an ideal world, experienced faculty would reach out to new faculty (who are busy enough juggling teaching, service, and research), not the other way around. I guess that all junior faculty are in charge of changing the culture now.


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For your viewing pleasure, and in light of the response to her video for “Formation” and Super Bowl appearance (backlash to which, according to one Fox News writer, “continues to grow”), here is Saturday Night Live’s brilliant response, “The Day Beyoncé Turned Black”:

 

Keep in mind that if your workplace is freaking out over the realization that Beyoncé is, and has always been, black, you might need to put on some Adele to sooth them:

 

Update: Here is a more detailed discussion from Doug Hartmann.


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