Archive for September, 2011

While looking for a class example recently I came across the graph above comparing Michigan K-12 school revenues with health care expenditures.  In class, I displayed the graph and asked my students what they hear people blame for the rise of health care costs.  They mentioned insurance companies and the uninsured.  Then I asked them what they hear people blame for the rise of education costs.  The first thing they mentioned was teacher pay.  These reasons are given despite the fact that in the past 15-20 years teacher pay has barely outpaced inflation while physician’s salaries have increased a good deal more.

The rhetoric surrounding both of these increases is fascinating because of how clearly it illustrates the low value we place on teachers and the work they do.  I have heard similar claims about faculty salaries in the face of rising tuition (and decreased state support for public colleges and universities).  While I am somewhat insulated from these claims by virtue of being at a private institution, the eroding value of teaching at all levels will undoubtedly affect all of us in the future.

Finally, the poor job market for teachers and professors likely exacerbates these problems, since for every teacher or tenure track professor complaining about declines in benefits and take-home pay there are three claiming that they would be happy to work for even lower wages in exchange for stable employment.

Image Via: Michigan Parents for Schools

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A few days ago, Justin Martin commented at Inside Higher Ed on the well-known belief that students don’t live in the “real world.”  He justifiably argues that they are:

The students I teach are professional jugglers who make a Cirque du Soleil show look like a barn dance. Among them they’re balancing academic course loads, community service, part-time or even full-time jobs, loan debt, athletic training and competition, transient housing situations, along with some of life’s other gems like a sick parent, a sibling in Afghanistan, or an unplanned pregnancy.

One of the primary reasons educated Americans are such successful professionals is that the college years are hard. “The real world” isn’t so daunting to college graduates because they’ve already spent four or five years in it. The deadlines they face are very real, and I know this because I rigidly impose some of them, and my students know that the word “dead” is in deadline for a reason. I don’t go easy on my students, but I also don’t belittle the loads they carry. College students in the U.S. are impressive people, and their hard work should be praised, not demeaned.

Of course, as I’ve stated before, I also think that people use the idea of the “real world” to privilege their own experiences over systematic data collection and the experiences of others.

Via: Historiann


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Masculine vs. Feminine?

As any reader of Sociological Images can tell you, humans can apply gender norms to almost anything.  This includes cars.  Above are pictures of the 2012 Volkswagen Beetle and the previous model (ironically called the “New Beetle” – “New” has been dropped from the name as of the 2012 model).  The car on the right was a sales smash upon release in 1998 but sold just over 16,000 copies in 2010.  Despite the fact that the car has remained basically unchanged for twelve model years (most models have five- or six-year replacement cycles), in developing and revealing its replacement, Volkswagen focused on the car’s image problem.  The New Beetle, with its round body and details like a flower vase on the dash, was seen as feminine or, in the words of one automotive blog, a “chick car.”

In itself, the fact that a feminized product was refreshed to appear more masculine is nothing new (in fact, Sociological Images wrote about the new Beetle over five months ago).  An aspect of the story that I thought was interesting, though, is what sales look like for a feminized car.  This LA Times article from June of 2010 revealed that about 56% of New Beetles sold were registered to women.  Fifty six percent!  Car sales are apparently like presidential elections, in which 56% is a landslide victory.  This number apparently doesn’t reflect how feminized 56% is, though, since women account for only 36% of new car registrations.  It is also possible that some of the cars that are registered by men are driven by women.  Still, it would be nice to live in a place where women accounting for just over half of something’s sales did not make that product feminized.  I suppose that there is a bright side, though, in that up to 44% of men who bought a New Beetle did not let ridiculous gender norms affect their decision.

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Last year, my department submitted a request to run a job search this year.  The fact that our request was denied means that there won’t be any posts about us on the Rumor Mill this year but it also gave me a bit of insight into the other side of a search.  In part, our search was denied because we were not able to sufficiently demonstrate “need” in comparison to the other departments that were trying to argue for their own needs.  In our case, we were trying to add somebody who could teach core courses (intro, methods, etc.) rather than trying to replace somebody who left us with a gaping hole in our curriculum (which is partially how I got hired).  In the eyes of the administration, this made our search less pressing than those proposed by others, especially in tight economic times.

If we are eventually allowed to run a search in the future, I wonder how the justification that we use in arguing for our departmental needs will affect our ability to hire, or even interview, strong candidates who are not exactly in line with that need.  While lots of candidates are told to apply broadly, this suggests that applying to small schools that are looking for areas of specialization that are not directly in line with their own may not be productive.  Of course, this will remain conjecture until the powers that be allow us to conduct a search.  Unless our needs change, it could be a while.

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As an undergraduate, I admired the extent to which my primary faculty mentor was involved with local organizations.  Perhaps because of this, my own goals for faculty life include developing relationships in both the campus and broader communities.  Like any relationship, though, it seems that these connections cannot be forced.  Rather, they develop as one takes advantage of available opportunities, leading to more opportunities and larger roles in the future.

Over the summer, I took advantage of my first opportunity to become involved in local government by responding to a campus-wide call for interested parties that fell within my area of interest.  At the first meeting, which took place in an auditorium, I was struck by the “Parks and Recreation” feel of a public forum.  At the second meeting I was struck by the ability of local government to move swiftly, based on the fact that things had actually happened since the first meeting.  This is in direct contrast to my experience on collaborative academic projects, which tend to move at a glacial pace.

Depending on how official the sign-up sheet that I wrote my name on was, I am officially on a local government subcommittee.  While this will surely take away from the time that I have to spend on other things, I hope that it is time well spent.

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The recent resurgence of vampires in popular culture could be due to the fact that the Twilight books and movies play on gender stereotypes and teen sexuality.  Or maybe vampires are coming into the light, so to speak, because they have found a new way to move undetected among humans and are spending their long-held wealth on media depictions of their own kind.  Given this possibility, it is important to recognize potential vampires among our students so that we can study them sociologically.  I have one student that I suspect could be a vampire, based on the following facts:

  • The student reports sleeping very little each night (it is unknown whether this sleep takes place in a coffin)
  • The student has a widow’s peak (a classic giveaway)
  • The student is relatively pale (and seems to have no interest in tanning)
  • The student drinks a red liquid daily (this liquid is in a Code Red Mt. Dew bottle but it is unlikely that the liquid is actually Code Red Mt. Dew because Code Red Mt. Dew is nearly undrinkable)
  • The student gets good grades (hard work or the accumulation of centuries of knowledge?)
  • The student’s parents are reportedly much older than normal (they are also retired)
  • The student’s clothing is slightly anachronistic (a student who’s clothing is too trendy might also be suspicious)

On the other side of the ledger is the fact that vampires are widely thought to be fictional.  I’m taking a wait-and-see approach to this student’s place on the scale ranging from living to undead.  In case the student does turn out to be a vampire I am planning a large-scale vampire survey and ethnography that will redefine my career before forming the Society for the Sociological Study of Vampires (SSSV).

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Once in a while, a large corporation does something nice (of course, once in a while, the same corporation goes to court over the likenesses of student athletes).  In this case, though, Electronic Arts responded to a young girl’s request to allow the creation of female players in NHL 12.  Even if the corporation saw it as a publicity opportunity, it is still a nice example of social action on the part of Lexi Peters:

“I asked my dad, ‘Why aren’t there girls in the NHL video game?’ And he said, ‘I don’t know, write a letter.’ So, I did,” Lexi told the Globe and Mail from her home in Buffalo, N.Y.

She sent a typewritten letter to the executives of one the largest video game makers in the world, asking them to add women players.

She wrote: “It is unfair to women and girl hockey players around the world, many of them who play and enjoy your game. I have created a character of myself, except I have to be represented by a male and that’s not fun.”

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I’ve previously discussed how much I typically work in a week and the challenges of accomplishing anything that isn’t teaching related, but I’ve never discussed what an actual work week looks like.  This post seeks to fill this gaping hole in the literature.  As a third-year faculty member, a typical (and simplified – excluding time spent responding to e-mails, etc.) might look like this:


7:30-12 – Arrive on campus between 7:30 and 8.  Review class readings/notes and teach two 50-minute courses.  Try to start reading for my Tuesday/Thursday class.

12-1 – Eat lunch, read the local online paper, catch up on my RSS feeds, and possibly continue reading.

1-4:30 – Hold office hours and prepare for Tuesday’s course.  Students and colleagues stop by my office sporadically.


7:30-12 – Arrive on campus between 7:30 and 8:30, depending on how much I need to do before class.  Finish course preparation and teach one 1.5 hour course.

12-1 – Eat lunch, read the local online paper, catch up on my RSS feeds, and start reading for Thursday’s class.

1-4 – Grade assignments.  I do not have office hours but students and colleagues stop by my office sporadically.

4-6 – Committee Meeting (I typically have about one commitment from 4-6 each week).


7:30-12 – Arrive on campus between 7:30 and 8.  Review class readings/notes and teach two 50-minute courses.  Try to continue reading for my Tuesday/Thursday class.

12-1 – Eat lunch, read the local online paper, catch up on my RSS feeds, and possibly continue reading.

1-4:30 – Prepare for Thursday’s course.  I do not have office hours but students and colleagues stop by my office sporadically.

6:30-8:30 – Grade papers or exams (this varies but I usually spend a few hours on some week night grading things).


7:30-12 – Arrive on campus between 7:30 and 8:30, depending on how much I need to do before class.  Finish course preparation and teach one 1.5 hour course.

12-1 – Eat lunch, read the local online paper, and catch up on my RSS feeds.

1-2 – Office hours.  Revise and copy an exam for Friday’s class (this differs from week to week).

2-3 – Prepare outlines for next week’s MWF courses (depending on the amount of revisions I make to the outlines from the previous time I taught each course, this could take quite a bit longer).  Students and colleagues stop by my office sporadically.

3-4:30 – Work on dataset for summer research project.


7:30-12 – Arrive on campus between 7:30 and 8.  Review class readings/notes and teach two 50-minute courses, giving an exam in one.

12-1 – Eat lunch, read the local online paper, and catch up on my RSS feeds.

1-4 – Meet with students about independent studies, internships, summer research projects, and senior theses (these are likely to be spread throughout the week but it was easier to put them in one spot).

4-4:30 – Grade multiple choice questions from the day’s exam and tie up loose ends.


12-5 – Begin grading exams.

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I’ve talked about issues of privacy and digital identity before, but a recent court case involves the intersection of both.  For years, companies such as Electronic Arts have been making video games about college athletics.  The problem is that college athletes are not able to sell their likenesses for personal gain (because, you know, they’re amateurs!).  In recognition of this fact, those making video games about college athletics change the names of the athletes while leaving other identifying characteristics such as physical traits, statistics, and even uniform numbers, intact.  The games do allow users to change the names of players, though, and fan dedication combined with internet connectivity means that updated rosters with players’ actual names are often available shortly after a game’s release.  For example, NCAA Football 12 was released on July 12 and this post from August 1 lists changed rosters for the two most advanced home consoles.

For players, the fact that others are profiting from their likenesses does not always go over well (though it sometimes does – the cover athlete is typically a player one year removed from college sports who appears in a college uniform).  Some college players are so upset about this that they do what any good American would do, they sueOne such court case was recently dismissed by a federal district court because “EA’s right to free expression under the First Amendment supersedes a former quarterback’s right to control the use of his likeness.”   Video games, you see, are works of creative expression protected by the first amendment.

This is likely not the end of the road for court cases such as this.  The NCAA considered a rule change this year that would have allowed corporate sponsors to use clips of current athletes in advertisements as long as those advertisements included the name of the athletes’ institutions.

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The semester has barely started and I already feel like I am treading water.  I have short essays to grade from each of my three classes, committee meetings, and meetings with students.  Beyond this and my recurring Major Procrastination Disorder, I’m also teaching my third entirely new course since starting my job.  In total, I’ve taught seven different courses since starting just over two years ago.  With so much emphasis on course prep (I’ve never had a semester when I didn’t have to prep a new course or substantially revise an old one), once assignments and exams start rolling in there isn’t much time for anything else.  Then, when there is a moment when I finish my teaching-related work I feel like I’m “done.”  This feeling is similar to the lack of motivation I felt as a student after completing a major paper.  In these moments I often think of the research projects I want to work on.  I think about them as I’m drifting off to sleep for a rare mid-afternoon nap.

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