Archive for October, 2010

Appearing on Crossfire in 2004, Jon Stewart argued that the show, and others like it, were “hurting America”:

At yesterday’s Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, Jon Stewart concluded with largely the same message, arguing that “if we amplify everything, we hear nothing.”  Despite the cancellation of Crossfire, the overall ratings for cable news networks have not decreased since 2004:

As somebody who has grown up with the rise of the internet and cable tv, I can’t pretend that I would like to go back to some earlier age despite downsides such as this.  Clearly, cable news networks will not shut down as long as people are watching them and people seem unlikely to broaden their political horizons as long as they can connect with similarly-minded individuals in anonymous online forums.

What remains to be seen is whether those at the extremes will continue to bring viewers to cable news or whether the public will tire of these stories as the millenials graduate from college and begin to exercise political control.  Twenty years from now, will we look at Jon Stewart’s remarks and the hundreds of thousands of people who showed up in Washington as a sign that sanity was indeed around the corner or will we still be wishing for sanity’s return?

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Continuing the theme of faculty compensation, Tenured Radical has posted Part III of the conversation she started earlier in the week.  In Part III she gives an overview of the wide range of responses to her question of faculty salary and notes that only one commenter, the difficult to pronounce Squadratomagico, was not worried by the current state of affairs.  Squadratomagico (it is difficult to type, too) details her reasons for this at her own blog, including the argument that this is part of the deal we accept when entering the nonprofit world.  Along these lines, I thought that academics largely accept the fact that they are not going to get rich in academia and that if they wanted doctors’ and lawyers’ salaries they should go to school to be doctors and lawyers.  I remember hearing this several times, though not quite so bluntly as this or this.

Given the wide range of salaries in response to TR’s original post, it is clear that many academics are struggling in low-wage conditions.  There are others, however, bringing home comfortable salaries despite recent stagnation.  As one professor told me in grad school, no matter how much he made, he never seemed to have any extra money (he mentioned the more expensive houses, vacations, etc. that tend to come with higher incomes, but he may as well have said this).  Beyond the fact that we should have known what we were getting into before becoming academics, I have a hard time finding sympathy for an individual making more than twice the median income of U.S. households as we slowly make our way out of an economic crisis (even controlling for the higher cost of living in certain areas).

The larger question, though, is whether the salary freezes that have frustrated even well-paid academics are temporary or part of a new world order of higher education.  Given rising costs and decreasing budgets, academic pay is likely a double-edged sword.  As Squadratomagico notes, “The larger the gap between what it costs institutions to sustain a full-time line with benefits, and hiring an adjunct, the more adjunctified the university becomes, pure and simple.”  Ultimately, it seems that the solution may need to come from larger public investments in education, which is a double-edged sword in itself.  For the foreseeable future, it appears that we’ll need to revel in the non-monetary benefits of academia if we have a desire to consider ourselves rich.


*This post has a soundtrack, which has reentered my consciousness thanks to its excellent use in The Social Network

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A post at Tenured Radical yesterday brought up the issue of increasing faculty responsibilities and decreasing salaries (in constant, and sometimes absolute, dollars).  The comments on yesterday’s post are particularly interesting given the wide range of salaries at various institution types.  This is something that most people are aware of in the abstract but is still sobering when contextualized.  A post today continues this discussion and responds to Historiann’s discussion of TR’s changing opinion on salary freezes over the past few years (thankfully, academics are able to change their minds based on new information, unlike politicians).

The issues of salary and workloads are connected to current discussions of work-life balance.  At one such discussion on my own campus at which the administration reiterated its support for the health and well-being of the faculty one brave soul brought up the fact that despite these messages, the only way for faculty members to increase their salaries is to increase their workload.  He then asked whether the administration had ever considered rewarding faculty for leading balanced lives rather than simply working more.  The answer, unsurprisingly, was no.

Faculty members, then, appear to be faced with a choice between working less for less money or working more for less money.

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At the beginning of the month I shared an anti-procrastination metaphor that I picked up somewhere along the way.  In discussions with students since, however, I’ve found myself drawing on my recent dentist appointments (years without dental insurance cannot be reversed overnight).  It is likely more applicable to students’ daily lives than my previous example.

Imagine two people visit the dentist for a cleaning and are told to return in six months.  The first person brushes her teeth for two minutes twice a day (four total minutes per day) every day for six months, spending 12 total hours brushing her teeth between dentist appointments.  The second person does not brush her teeth at all for five months and 29 days but spends 12 hours brushing her teeth on the day before her dentist appointment.  Which person’s teeth would you rather have?

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Continuing this week’s theme of academic publication following two very different submission experiences, I thought that it would be nice to balance my perspective with that of an editor.  The editor happens to have edited a literary magazine, but I think that there are several aspects that are applicable to academic publishing:

I will concede that there are some real asshole editors out there—rude, negligent, incompetent, narrow-minded, stupid narcissists who wouldn’t know a good story or poem if it slapped them on the face—but they’re a minority, I believe. I think most editors are dedicated, tireless, honorable people, and they’re woefully underappreciated. The vast majority of them, you see, are publishing their magazines as labors of love. The vast majority are volunteers. Not only don’t they get paid, they often dip into their own pockets to fund their publications. They have entirely separate full-time jobs. They have families. They fill out grant applications and read manuscripts and typeset issues and haggle with vendors and stick labels onto renewal letters in what little spare time they have. They forfeit their own ambitions as writers to accomplish this. They do it all for you.

What makes them dispirited is the us-versus-them mentality that has developed between writers and editors, linked to accusations that they aren’t open to new writers or that the system is somehow rigged. Granted, it gets difficult for editors not to become cynical. You would, too, if you saw some of the crap that comes in over the transom—submissions from rank amateurs and inmates and crazies and attorneys that are excruciatingly, laughably awful, not anywhere near the standards of the recipient journal, simultaneously submitted, of course, the writers never having taken a cursory look at a single issue of the magazines they’re encumbering, much less subscribed or bought a copy. So when editors find anything with a modicum of craft or originality, they are grateful—yes, grateful. However, they can’t publish everything, and not every piece is appropriate for a given magazine, regardless of its merits. And something else—a hard truth: a submission might be good, but not good enough. This is what writers have problems swallowing. After getting a rejection, instead of taking another look at the story or poem and perhaps revising it or spending a little more time thinking about the most suitable venue for it, it’s much easier to rail against these editors and magazines and believe [see all of the aforementioned]. I know this, because, as a writer myself, despite my past experience as an editor, I do exactly the same thing.

Via Orgtheory

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Aside from the outcome, one of the interesting things about my recent journal submission, was the amount of time spent on the paper before submission.  A coauthor and I worked on this paper with varying degrees of intensity for over five years.  To put this in context, between the paper’s inception and its completion, we both took our comprehensive exams and started and completed our dissertations.  In the years between, our paper spent time on every burner.

It seems that the most frequently-discussed burner is the back burner, but I would characterize the early stages of our project as time spent on the side burner.  During this time, we made some progress on the paper every week or two.  This also describes the time immediately after our data collection was complete.  During data collection, there were times when our paper was on the front burner and received our undivided attention.  Following data collection and the completion of complete drafts, however, our paper was frequently moved to the back burner while things like the aforementioned comprehensive exams and dissertations occupied our time.  During this time our paper also periodically spent a day or two on the front burner when one of us became motivated to make some progress.  The summer was also a period in which our paper was on the front burner as we prepared it for submission.

While I would not recommend allowing your projects to spend so much time on the back burner (especially if you work at a research institution!), there are some ways that these long delays may have contributed to our paper’s eventual acceptance.  Putting the paper away for long periods of time necessitated that when we did work on the paper we had to familiarize ourselves with it once again.  Looking at the paper with fresh eyes allowed us to recognize the weaknesses in our paper.  My work this summer, for example, started with the idea that I would make some minor adjustments before publication and ended with a nearly complete reorganization of the introduction and literature review.

It is possible (and perhaps even likely) that our paper would have been accepted and published by now (even if rejections had preceded this publication) if we had submitted it in a lesser form several years ago.  Regardless, the fact that our longer-than-ideal time frame may have worked to our advantage suggests that others who have potential publications simmering on the back burner should move them to the front burner and send them out.

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A while ago I “wrote” to a journal editor who had spurned a paper that I wrote and, despite the fact that the paper was later published and received some media attention, the publication process was painful.  Even before first R&R, the paper was rejected at multiple venues.  While the final product was arguably a better paper, I wouldn’t have minded an acceptance at a much earlier stage.

Publication, it turns out, is not always so painful.  Over the summer I submitted a paper for review and there were several notable differences from my earlier experience.  First, I received the editor’s decision within a month.  The dear journal editor in my previously mentioned situation, by comparison, took three months to inform me that he was rejecting my revised and resubmitted paper without review.  The largest difference, however, was in the outcome.  Based on the quick turnaround, I was apprehensive about opening the e-mail and pleasantly surprised to see that the paper had received a conditional acceptance, the holy grail of review outcomes.

If publication was always this painless I may have been content at an R1 institution.  They have small class sizes and value teaching, right?

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All I can really say in reaction to the opening of tonight’s episode of The Simpsons, which was designed and directed by British artist Banksy, is holy shit.

Of course, this commentary on the foreign production of our products is even more forceful given the way that The Simpsons is actually made:

During most of the 1980s, US pundits considered animated shows as appropriate only for children, and animating a show was too expensive to achieve a quality suitable for prime-time television. The Simpsons changed this perception.[6] The use of Korean animation studios for tweening, coloring, and filming made the episodes cheaper. The success of The Simpsons and the lower production cost prompted US television networks to take chances on other animated series

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Who hasn’t wanted to tell students that they can do whatever they want… and then blow them up when they choose to do something dumb?  From what I can tell, the makers of this video are either college professors, middle managers, or the people that Michael Crichton wrote about in State of Fear:

Via: Jalopnik

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Student statement of the day:

“This is a great day!  I should stay sober more often!”

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