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Archive for February, 2014

US News Ranking by Endowment Ranking

The other day I was having a conversation with a colleague about how much size matters to US News. That is, how closely correlated are US News rankings of national liberal arts schools with the size of their endowments? Since both the rankings and the size of endowments are available on the US News website, I decided to take a look. (Note that I don’t actually have any software for statistical analysis at home, so everything that follows will be very basic.)

The first thing I did was create a list of the top 99 schools (there were several schools at #100, so I decided to go with 99 instead of 104 or whatever it would have been) with their rankings and the size of their endowments and then order the list by endowment size and re-rank the schools in order to determine the difference between US News rank and endowment rank. On average, the US News rankings differed from the endowment rankings by just -.48, meaning that the average school is ranked about a half a position lower than its endowment would suggest.

Considering that raw endowment amounts may not be as important as endowment per student, I did the same analysis again but divided the endowment by the total number of students. The result was the same: -.48. In both cases, though, the standard deviation was large. For raw endowment, the standard deviation was 18.66, while for enrollment-adjusted endowment it was 20.99.

I also looked at the schools with the best and worst rankings relative to their endowments. The winners were the US Air Force Academy (ranked 65 spots above the location that its 90th-ranked endowment would suggest) and the US Military Academy (46 spots above its 63rd-ranked endowment). The losers were Berea College (65 spots below its 11th-ranked endowment) and Agnes Scott College (37 spots below its 52nd-ranked endowment).

Finally, I took a look at the correlation coefficients. Pearson’s r for the raw endowment was .78, while for enrollment-adjusted endowment it was .72. In both cases, there is a strong correlation between endowment and US News rankings. This isn’t particularly surprising, given that a large endowment makes a school more able to do the things that US News values while drawing the types of students that US News values. It does, however, point out that, in many cases, US News rankings don’t provide much information beyond what we could ascertain by glancing at the endowments of two schools.

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If you have access to Facebook friends who are feminists and/or sociologists you might have seen the video above, directed by Eléonore Pourriat. In it, a man faces the sorts of things that women in the real world face on a daily basis. By reframing things in order to change the viewer’s perspective on them it is reminiscent of the Heterosexuality Questionnaire (which asks questions like “Is it possible that your heterosexuality is just a phase you may grow out of?”). At Buzzfeed, the director stated that her inspiration “came from my experience as a woman over the past 40 years, and from the incredulity of men when I told them about the comments and behavior of some men on the street, in high school, in public transportation, everywhere really.” In that way, it is also similar to many of the early posts by FemaleScienceProfessor.

As a white male, the most interesting thing about the video to me is how hard it is to see the women’s statements as threatening toward the man after growing up in a society dominated by white cisgender straight men. Pedagogically, then, I think that the discussion of why it is so hard to see men as threatened by women in our society would be even more interesting than the discussion of the ways that the director plays with gendered experiences.

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When I was younger, I loved snow days. I preferred to find out about them after I had gotten up and ready for the day so that I could take full advantage of the opportunities that snow days provided, since I did not have the self control to get up at my usual time if I knew that there was no school. In college, snow days were rare, but I still appreciated the occasional surprise class cancellation (except for the semester that at least 1/3 of my once-a-week class were cancelled – I don’t think we ever got to the “bang-up lecture on hegemony” that the professor kept promising). I liked these surprise cancellations so much that I thought that if I ever taught my own courses I would leave some space in the syllabus so that I could surprise students with a canceled class once a semester or so. Then I started teaching classes in grad school, and everything changed.

Suddenly, my concern was fitting all of the topics that I wanted to discuss into 15 weeks and a cancellation meant major revisions to the schedule that was already overflowing. I gave up on the idea of surprise cancellations (which students who commute surely would not have appreciated anyway) but the weather still caused the occasional problem. Sure, I enjoyed the day that I spent watching Mean Girls because I had been looking for a clip to use when I found out that classes were cancelled, but I also needed to spend time deciding how I was going to deal with the readings, discussions, assignment deadlines, and exam dates that were threatened by missing a class. This is exacerbated by the fact that my syllabi have very specific dates for everything (I have never been able to say, “we’ll talk about this book for a week or so and move on when we’re done” like some of my colleagues).

When classes are cancelled, then, I have a few options:

  • Ignore the material I was going to discuss that day and move on. In some classes, this is inconvenient. In others, it is impossible. For these reasons, I have never used this option.
  • Provide students with an outline of the things that I was going to discuss in class and cram the highlights in at the beginning of the next class before continuing on schedule. This works for discussion-based courses but not as well for things like statistics or research methods. It also gives students the perception that the topic was not very important.
  • Cut down the material for two days and try to cover them both at once. This is typically the approach I use in discussion-based courses. It is inconvenient but does not completely eliminate the discussion of anything that I or my students find particularly important.
  • Push everything back. Moving the entire schedule back a day inevitably pushes something at the end of the semester off of a cliff, so it is essentially the same as skipping a day. That is probably why I have not used this method, either.
  • Speed things up. This is the approach that I am most likely to use in a class like statistics or research methods where I feel like I can’t leave anything out. The idea is that I will be behind at the end of each class period but I will eventually catch up to the planned schedule.

Any of these methods would probably be okay for a single class period, depending on the course topic. Unfortunately, this semester I have already missed an entire week of one course. I hate snow days.

*Edit: The title is now grammatically correct (it previously said “Being a professor takes ruins snow days” because the original title was that it “takes some of the fun out of” snow days but that was way too long. I also forgot to post the line about Facebook below. I’m apparently bad at both grammar and self-promotion.

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Todd Beer at Sociology Toolbox highlights a new tool from the New York Times allowing users to create a budget based on the minimum wage (watch as your money flies away!). As Beer notes, this is a great tool for students because it allows them to see how difficult many of their lifestyles would be on the minimum wage. It also works well with classroom discussions about who works for the minimum wage, as this infographic demonstrates:

Minimum Wage Workers

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Social ScienceBill O’Reilly!

Lately, some of my Facebook friends have been posting a link to Herbert Gans’s 2002 entreaty to become public sociologists. In it, Gans states that anybody can become a public sociolgist but cautions that “Audiences are the ultimate gate keeper” and that “public intellectuals must be willing to speak to topics that interest them, and with frames and values that are comprehensible and acceptable to them.”

The above photo, in which a bookstore’s Social Science section (which consisted of one shelf) has been overrun by Bill O’Reilly, indicates that we might not be doing the best job of this. The Social Sciences section was next to the politics section, so it is likely that these books overflowed from there (although I would argue that they don’t belong there, either!) but I couldn’t find a single book on this shelf that was actually based on social science research. The next shelf was related to crime and was filled mostly with the “true crime” genre.

I think that Nathan Palmer’s recent reminder that, for our students, we are the public face of sociology is important, but we still appear to be failing Gans. If none of sociology’s best sellers appear in a bookstore in a rural area of the country and people’s idea of sociology itself is derived from Sudhir Venkatesh’s appearance on the Colbert Report, then maybe we are too focused on what our colleagues think of our work and not focused enough on what our neighbors think of it.

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Much has been written about the controversy surrounding Patti Adler’s Deviance course at the University of Colorado at Boulder, to the extent that the story moved beyond academic circles to more general outlets like the Huffington Post. I followed the story as it moved through numerous channels, from Boulder’s Daily Camera to Inside Higher Ed to Slate. Other than the facts that Adler was a tenured professor and fellow sociologist, one of the most interesting things to me was the University’s reported statement comparing Adler’s lecture on prostitution to the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State. As Inside Higher Ed reported,

Adler said that she was told by Steven Leigh, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, that a former teaching assistant had raised a concern that some participants might be uncomfortable, but that none had in fact complained. Adler said that participation was entirely voluntary and not part of anyone’s grade.

She said that Leigh told her that there was “too much risk” in having such a lecture in the “post-Penn State environment,” alluding to the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

A recent article about CU-Boulder’s Philosophy Department by Rebecca Shuman at Slate suggests that the real reason for Leigh’s concern may have been much closer than Pennsylvania.

The article begins:

On Friday, the University of Colorado–Boulder released a scathing report from an independent investigating team about sexual misconduct in one of its top humanities programs, the department of philosophy

The damning 15-page report is the result of extensive on-site interviews with administration, faculty, staff, and students, undertaken by the American Philosophical Association’s Committee on the Status of Women. The committee concluded that despite its enviable academics, CU’s department “maintains an environment with unacceptable sexual harassment, inappropriate sexualized unprofessional behavior, and divisive uncivil behavior.”

In addition to the 15 official complaints filed with CU’s Office of Discrimination and Harassment since 2007, the report details a near-universal witnessing of “harassment and inappropriate sexualized professional behavior” at alcohol-soaked extracurricular activities. Further, a large portion of the faculty either were “not knowledgeable about the harms of sexual harassment,” or were “not sufficiently familiar” with university policy, state law, or federal law.

Last year CU-Boulder also faced claims that it failed to properly report sexual assaults, though it was recently found to have “met legal requirements.”

Although I am not a journalist and I have done nothing other than read news stories regarding these events, it seems likely that CU-Boulder is currently hyper-aware of anything that could be perceived as sexual harassment, even if no actual complaints have been filed. If this is the case, it is telling that the university responded to accusations of women being harassed and assaulted by attempting to force out a female professor who had been accused of nothing. (This scenario is reminiscent of the time Justin Bieber was suspected of egging his neighbor’s house and police arrested his black friend for drug possession.)

I have no doubt that CU-Boulder’s administrators responded in what they thought was the best way to what they perceived as yet another possible gender-related scandal. During faculty meetings at my own institution I have often heard administrators express fear of potential lawsuits. The problem with these statements is that none of the people who make them have any sort of legal experience, so they act on what they think the law might say, changing the language of many faculty and staff policies based on the fact that they have seen a few episodes of “Law and Order.” In Adler’s case, administrators at CU-Boulder brought a lot of negative attention upon themselves, not to mention the potential for a lawsuit from Adler (who has been reinstated), by doing something that was likely intended to avoid negative attention and lawsuits.

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Thankfully for fans, this year’s Super Bowl featured some ads to keep them entertained during Seattle’s demolition of the Denver Broncos. Two of the ads, in particular, stood out to me for their recognition of America’s diversity.

The one that has provoked less controversy was for Cheerios and featured a biracial family:

This commercial is actually a sequel to a previous commercial from last spring that featured the same family. The previous ad ignited racist comments online, leading comments to be disabled on the video at YouTube. These comments demonstrate that a casual depiction of an interracial family is still a big deal over 40 years after the Supreme Court struck down anti-miscegenation laws in its ruling on Loving v. Virginia.

The second commercial was for Coke and has received considerably more attention:

The attention this ad has received is reminiscent of the controversy after Marc Anthony sang “God Bless America” at last summer’s MLB All-Star Game. In both cases people seem to have forgotten that not everybody in the United States speaks the same language or has ancestors from the same part of the world. This was also reportedly the first Super Bowl Commercial to feature a gay family.

While it is great to see these depictions during one of the most-watched television events of the year, there is also an element of calculated risk that it seems General Mills and Coke were willing to accept. That is, airing a commercial that will anger some people will also ensure that people will be talking about that commercial and, by extension, the product. Katie Bayne, Coke’s president, said, “We hope the ad gets people talking and thinking about what it means to be proud to be American.” Oh, and Coke!

The fact that these complaints will be written off as bigoted by the majority of the audience they are trying to reach also reduces the actual risk that they take on and says to consumers, “We think those people are idiots, too. Buy our product.”

Update: Here is a post by Jenny Davis discussing these ads and the way our reaction to them helps us overlook systemic racism.

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