Archive for March, 2011

A while back I talked about the fact that there are very different publication currents at the school where I was a grad student and the school where I currently work.  I stated:

When coming out of graduate school I had a strong desire to do important research but I wondered if the desire for high-profile publications would fade.  What I’ve found is that the desire hasn’t faded but the expectations of my institution create a situation in which I appear to be swimming against the current, wondering how long I can last before I am swept downstream.

When writing this, I was thinking about my own experiences and those of others at liberal arts schools, but this feeling is not confined to the SLACers of the world.  In response to these feelings, I talked about joining an old-fashioned (and long-running) reading group.  Historiann, however, presents blogging as another alternative in her blog post summarizing her talk summarizing her feminist blogging (how meta!).  She writes:

From the perspective of an intellectual metropole like Austin, I can certainly see why some might think of academic blogging as a waste of time that competes with the time available to meet concrete career benchmarks.  But most of us don’t end up in major university towns or big cities with seminars and symposia in our fields and armies of Ph.D. students–most of us leave graduate school and spend our careers in places in which we may feel intellectually isolated.  So blogs can be spaces that become virtual communities where we can combat isolation and have conversations about our common interests.  If your goal in blogging is to alienate friends and allies, then blogs may be potentially dangerous to one’s career.

I suspect that not all blogs work equally well for this task.  A pseudonymous blog in which the author never talks about his specific work (and doesn’t allow comments) is probably much less effective at building academic communities than a blog focused on a person’s particular research interests.  Similarly, an individual’s blog may be less effective at building community than a topic-centered group blog such as Orgtheory.  I suspect that if I had ended up in the middle of nowhere the purpose of this blog may have quickly changed from providing “sociological perspectives on life and the liberal arts” to providing “discussions on the sociology of lima beans for the intellectually isolated.”

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As a graduate student approaching the job market I heard a few stories about people who initially got jobs at less than ideal institutions and then published their way into better opportunities.  When I was on the job market this was even one of the reasons that I was advised to turn down a job with a 4-4 teaching load.  The implication is that candidates who receive jobs that they like only have to publish enough to satisfy the tenure expectations of their institutions while those who receive jobs that they don’t like need to publish more in order to make themselves attractive to potential future employers.

Given the current uncertainty in higher education (which you can read about here and hear about on your nightly news when state budgets are proposed) I think that the first of those statements is wrong.  Rather than being able to lower their publication standards to match the expectations of their institution, I think that faculty members at all institutions are facing a situation in which a strong publication record is a life vest.  While you may hope that you never have to use it, this life vest will be crucial if you should find yourself needing to abandon ship in these uncharted academic waters.  As those who are on the job market know, there aren’t enough life boats for everybody so your publication record may mean the difference between academic life and death.

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Because the tenure process is nearly as mysterious as the job market, I am glad that my institution provides feedback at multiple points along the way.  Specifically, I have a two-year review, a four-year review, and the tenure review.  Because these reviews occur at the end of the specified years, candidates turn in their materials roughly half a semester early, which results in the recent submission of files for my two-year review.

While I appreciate feedback, the idea of turning in materials for a two-year review is strange to me on multiple levels.  In one way, I feel like I have just started and can’t possibly be nearing the end of my second year.  In another way, I feel like the process of distilling my accomplishments over the past year and a half down to a series of papers, syllabi, evaluations, and bulleted lists borders on homeopathy.  Like homeopathy, I wonder how much effect the original substance can possibly have on the diluted result.  Does a syllabus say much about the experience of creating and teaching a course?

In addition to a three-ring binder, the tenure and promotion committee will receive evaluations of my teaching from four faculty members, each of whom observed roughly one class session of my teaching.  I have similar questions about the effectiveness of these evaluations as a gauge of a student’s classroom experience.  In response to my recent workload, I would tell myself to take it easy if I were on the T&P committee.  It will be interesting to hear their actual responses, which I will surely try to distill down to a blog post.

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As I discuss in some of my courses, one of the purposes of human subjects boards is to ensure that people are treated ethically by researchers.  I wonder, though, who ensures that the behavior of the human subjects board is ethical.  I discovered today that nearly the entire human subjects website for my school has been taken from another school.  This includes the relevant forms, instructions, and even the FAQ.  The worst part is that this fact is not even hidden.  While the links have been changed, the forms and FAQ refer repeatedly to an acronym that does not represent my institution but does represent an institution that is periodically named in the forms by mistake.  I haven’t been around long enough to be aware of any discussion that might have surrounded the adoption of these forms, but it appears that somebody decided that we needed a more robust human subjects review process and stole another school’s process rather than putting in the work of developing a process that will work best for our institution.  Of course, it is also possible that an underpaid and overworked staff member was given the task of updating the policies and  site.  Even so, the perpetrator may have chosen to pilfer from a peer institution.  The school the forms were taken from is ten times the size of my own.

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Working at a liberal arts school, I sometimes see my colleagues wearing jeans.  One colleague in particular typically wears a style of jeans that are about ten years out of date.  Of course, the jeans that I wear most frequently are nearly two years old, so I’m sure that I will be out of fashion soon (if I’m not already).  The point of this is that despite their long-standing place in the American wardrobe, jeans come in a wide variety of styles and fits.  Now there is one more.

Levi’s has been selling “501 Boyfriend Jeans” for women for a while now*.  The idea behind them is apparently that they are cut in a way that mimics men’s jeans (but still, somehow, not men’s jeans).  Now, Levi’s has responded to the rise of “skinny jeans” with”Ex-Girlfriend Jeans” for men despite the fact that nearly nobody looks good in them (unless they want to accentuate their differences).  Now men can buy super-tight jeans that were made for them but fit like they were made for their girlfriends (or, I guess, the girls who broke up with them for stealing their jeans).

Memoirs of a SLACer field reporter Stephen Colbert examines this issue further.


*It is interesting to note the way the Levi’s website differentiates “normal” men and women – the styles you get by clicking on those labels along the top of the site – from the labels that appear when you hover over these labels.  For men, the only other option is “Big and Tall” while women can be either normal, “Petite,” or “Plus.”

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