Archive for May, 2009

I recently participated in my third graduation ceremony, for my fourth graduation (no, the schools I attended did not have graduation ceremonies for preschool, kindergarten, elementary, or middle school).  For the first time in my life, however, I have not completed the requirements necessary to obtain the degree announced at the ceremony.  This will happen soon enough, but I have to wonder if being hooded by my dissertation advisor would have been a more emotional experience if it had actually marked the end of my time here.  Instead, I had the privilege of telling all of my family members that I’m almost a doctor.  Of course, none of them will be here to celebrate when I actually defend or file my dissertation.  I guess this is fitting since many of the big moments in an academic career are unobserved by others.

*Clearly, this title makes more sense than the song that inspired it.

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I’ve never been too excited about using textbooks in the courses I teach, but I think that a case can be made for their existence:

Sleep AidSeriously, though, there are times when you want your students to have access to a comprehensive overview of the knowledge in a field or subfield.  Of course, textbooks are heavy to carry around campus and cost a lot (maybe too much – I hear this guy drives a Bentley).  Enter the newest member of the Kindle family, the Kindle DX:

The Kindle DX has a 9.7″ screen, allowing it to display pages comparable in size to a traditional textbook.  One of the images on Amazon’s sales page indicates that college students are a target audience.

I don’t think that this is going to cause an immediate revolution in textbook sales, but I hope that future versions with color screens (and maybe even touch-sensitivity so that readers could take notes on the screen) will allow textbooks to become more reasonably priced and much more portable.

See Inside Higher Ed for a more detailed description of Amazon’s deals with three major textbook publishers and trials at six colleges.

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My first professional development request at my new school, for money to travel to ASA in San Francisco, has been approved.  During my interview I was told that the application process for this funding is little more than a bureaucratic hoop, but that didn’t stop me from worrying that the economic downturn would prevent somebody who has been on campus only four times from getting approval.  Now that I have received it I am free to pay my final “cheap” conference registration fee.

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A new post on the Chronicle of Higher Ed website provides an interesting look into the challenges faced by academics who are accused of being superfluous to their public institutions.  Mindy Stombler, of Georgia State University, is one of the three at the school to be labeled “expendable” by two members of the Georgia House of Representatives.  Those who have followed the story will remember that Stombler is listed as an “Oral sex expert” in GSU’s “expert guide,” which lawmakers confused with course titles.  Check out the excerpt below and then head to the Chronicle for the full article.

While I am not embarrassed to be known as an “oral sex expert” (when you teach sexuality to college students, eventually little embarrasses you), and the label provided lots of fun and fodder for my friends and colleagues, I was surprised by how quickly the fact that I was a sociologist (hired as a generalist) who taught and did research in a variety of areas was so quickly reduced to this one titillating label. I was also surprised that it took repeated testimony and contact with reporters to impress upon them that I was neither teaching “how to” courses in oral sex nor hired due to my expertise in oral sex. (And I have a CNN headline T-shirt to prove it: “Oral sex, prostitution classes disputed.”)

Kirk Elifson and I (along with our department chair, Donald Reitzes) were called to testify in front of the higher-education committees of both the Georgia House and the Senate. We clarified that we were not teaching courses on oral sex or male prostitution. We then discussed the importance of our research on those topics, and how it benefited the public. For me that involved talking about current patterns and interpretations of oral sex, increased rates of oral sex, and the public-health risks of unprotected oral sex.

Both our testimony and news interviews went well (the headline in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution read: “GSU Sex Experts Wow Georgia Legislators”). Editorials around the state supported us, and the local Atlanta press began reporting the story accurately (particularly the Journal-Constitution and Southern Voice). It seemed we were out of the hot seat and could begin recovery (and get back to work!).

Enter CNN.

CNN decided to pick up the story after we thought the controversy was over, and it produced a report that implied, once again, that we were teaching oral-sex courses at Georgia State. The report did not include the university’s official statement but did include a close-up of my name, my photo, and the introductory sentence from video of my testimony. CNN’s coverage ignored the existing facts already in print and was insulting to Georgia State, its professors, and its students.

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Shamus at Scatterplot has posted another reminder that information on the internet is not private.  This time, Justice Scalia is involved:

I’ve enjoyed reading about Fordham university law professor, Joel Reidenberg’s recent class assignment. Basically, Justice Scalia recently scoffed at privacy protections on the internet. So Reidenberg had has class gather a bunch of information about Scalia and send the 15-page dossier to Scalia himself. “Among its contents are Nino’s home address, his home phone number, [his home value], the movies he likes, his food preferences, his wife’s personal e-mail address, and photos of his lovely grandchildren.” Scalia flipped out. Others have thought through this exchange better than I, and Reidenberg has responded to Scalia. Odd that Scalia thinks privacy protections are “silly” and yet loses it when someone accesses public data about him.

Meanwhile, information on the internet took another victim when a teenager crashed his Audi S4 while driving with friends.  The driver and passengers escaped with minor injuries, and one of them went home and posted video leading up to the crash, in which the driver hit speeds of at least 155 mph, on YouTube:

Authorities and rescue workers arrived on scene to find that the teens survived with minor injuries and the driver was cited for imprudent speed, but when Dane County Sheriff’s Office found a video of the incident on YouTube, they were none-to-pleased. Rather than just trashing his S4 and walking away from a high-speed wreck with his life, the teen now faces possible reckless endangerment charges via the District Attorney’s Office because he had passengers in the car.

Via: Jalopnik

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One of the bizarre aspects of the job market is that everybody wants to be everybody else’s first choice.  Sure, candidates want to be a department’s first choice, but departments also want to be the first choice of candidates.  Because members of a department typically don’t know to whom an offer will be extended, they need to be nice to everybody to increase the chances that they are their first choice’s first choice.  Thus, departments and candidates alike may sugar coat certain things during a campus interview, leaving the reality for subsequent interactions.

I recently had the first of those subsequent interactions during a trip to look for housing.  On my trip I visited campus again, stopped by the provost’s office, met with HR and had dinner with a faculty member.  Each of these interactions held the possibility for some of the sheen of my successful candidacy and their successful sales pitches for the school and department to wear away.  Second impressions of the school centered on the effects of the current economy.  Compared to a number of other schools, things are not particularly bleak, but faculty members will not be receiving cost-of-living raises this year.  I can’t be sure of their second impressions of me, but they may have noticed that I’m more of a sarcastic asshole than they originally anticipated.

Largely, my second impressions reinforced my first impressions:  the school seems to be on solid financial footing;  the sense of community that was conveyed during my interview remained;  and my future coworker was friendly and gave me good advice about navigating the transition from graduate student to junior faculty member.  He may regret this in the fall when the sarcastic asshole down the hall won’t stop asking him questions.

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The swine flu (er… H1N1 Influenza A…) has already justified Twitter.  Now it is justifying YouTube (as if YouTube needed further justification).  This is awesome, especially the second one:

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In teaching, you typically get what you put in.  The pseudonymous Russell Smith (no relation to the pseudonymous John Smith) at the Chronicle of Higher Education has either forgotten this or just doesn’t care.  Based on his recent post, it appears that the latter is more likely.  He writes:

I remain open-minded. What if my students are right? What if the readings are too long or too boring or don’t make sense? What if they know something I don’t, such as the fact that this English class truly isn’t going to help them all that much in life, and that such requirements nowadays are ridiculous and retrograde?

When all the world is abuzz with digital twitterings, it may be that the humanities requirement is a dead and rotting carcass that we tiptoe around, neglecting to bury at our peril.

I am perfectly prepared to accept the proposition that the most effective teachers have studied these questions and arrived at appropriate responses. I suspect that they have attended conferences, refined their techniques, and deployed their forces. They are able to see each student with fresh eyes, and they welcome the challenges of life in the classroom. I admire — no, I envy — them. But it is a rare and distant land in which they live, difficult to reach.

I can’t tell if the author expects readers to find his frankness refreshing or his ennui romantic (he is an English professor, after all, and while he discusses Beckett, Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther seems closer to the target).  Maybe he would see me as naively optimistic about my own career in the classroom, but the same qualities that have drawn me to a liberal arts institution appear to be boring him to death.

Incidentally, the ASA’s section on teaching and learning is once again holding a pre-conference the day before the annual meeting.  Entitled “Teachers are Made, Not Born,” it is exactly the sort of thing that Smith gets excited about each August if he tries hard enough.  Hopefully those who attend (an application is available at www2.asanet.org/sectionteach/2009-application.pdf) will maintain their interest in quality teaching past “the first two weeks of the semester.”

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