Archive for the ‘R1’ Category

Recent news about Apple CEO Tim Cook’s appointment to the Duke University board of trustees reminded me of Bill Cosby. Not because Tim Cook has been accused of horrible crimes (he hasn’t), but because Bill Cosby served on the board of trustees for Temple University from 1982 to 2014, when he resigned. The fact that Cosby apparently only attended one meeting during his 32 years on the board would have caused me to wonder why he was chosen if another article hadn’t noted that he had helped raise millions of dollars for the school.

Immense personal wealth is the other thing connecting Cook and Cosby, as well as the others who have recently been named to Duke’s board. Among them are The Coca-Cola Foundation Chairwoman Lisa Borders, PRM Advisors founder Patricia Morton, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, and ValueAct Capital CEO Jeff Ubben. For at least the next six years, each of these people will be charged with guiding Duke’s “educational mission and its fiscal policies.” Unfortunately, I doubt any of them know very much about higher education.

The appointments of millionaires to a school’s board of trustees doesn’t surprise me because I have seen the role that board members play in my six years as a faculty member. It is true that they often have the “official” say in hiring and promotion, as well as voting on school policies, but from my experience their most important role is often one of donating money and fundraising. Before a capital campaign is made public there is a “silent” phase in which board members are approached for donations. When the campaign goes public, then, the school can announce that they have already raised millions of dollars. Even at my relatively poor former institution there were multiple millionaires on the board of trustees. Millionaires who knew very little about the day-to-day operation of a small private liberal arts college.

It is not surprising, then, to see these board members argue that colleges should be run like businesses. I doubt that I would make a good corporate board member since I lack detailed knowledge about how corporations function and care much more about things like social justice than stock dividends. The difference is that since I don’t have this knowledge so it would be absurd for me to be asked to serve on a corporation’s board. The reverse, though, is not true. The University of Illinois’s decision not to hire Steven Salaita appears to have been based not on academic concerns but on fundraising concerns raised by the board of trustees.

This is a problem. It is time to separate the roles of major donors and major decision-makers in higher education. Maybe we could create special boards to oversee the economic advancement of each institution. The problem with that is that in order to do so we would have to admit that our interest in these people is primarily financial and that we do not actually trust them to steer our great institutions of higher learning. Because that would be absurd.

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Lego recently launched a line of female scientists, and according to Slate, archaeologist Donna Yates bought a set and started the “Lego Academics” Twitter account to chronicle their adventures. It is nice to see depictions of female scientists experiencing the highs and lows of academic lives (unfortunately, the set is now sold out), but they must be at an R1 because as far as I can tell they never teach.

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That was my primary response after reading Reihan Salam’s recent argument at Slate that colleges should be fined when former students default on their student loans. Citing the work of sociologists Elizabeth Armstrong and Laura Hamilton in their book Paying for the Party, Salam notes:

One of their most striking findings is that standard college advising consistently failed to meet the needs of students from modest backgrounds. Students from affluent backgrounds had extensive social networks at their disposal, which helped them turn degrees in “party majors” like sports communication and broadcasting or interior decorating into jobs in glamorous, or glamorous-sounding, fields. Students who didn’t have parents familiar with the ins and outs of higher education to help them navigate the system found themselves at the mercy of incompetent, indifferent, and overworked advisers who routinely led them astray.

His solution? Punish schools for failing their students. He writes:

A good first step would be to punish colleges that have failed their students, as Andrew P. Kelly and Alex Pollock of the American Enterprise Institute have suggested. The basic idea is that if a student defaults on her student loans, the higher education institution she attended should pay a penalty. The genius of this idea, as Kelly has explained, is that it would make colleges think twice about their lackluster advising, even if the penalty were quite small. Colleges would suddenly have an excellent reason to guide students to majors that would help them gain marketable skills.

I see so many problems with this proposal that it is hard to list them all (for a start: financial punishments for schools that serve students with the highest risk has had terrible results for K-12 education, you can lead a student to a major but you can’t make her sign up for classes, if students graduate they might be less likely to default so pressure to pass everybody would increase) but for now I will focus on Salam’s apparent assumption that all schools are the same.

Salam may be surprised to find out that most colleges and universities are not like Midwest University in Paying for the Party. In fact, the middle- and working-class women who were most successful in Armstrong and Hamilton’s study were those who transferred to smaller schools closer to home where they did not face pressure to adhere to a lifestyle that they could not afford (in the short- or long-term). In addition to public flagships there are regional universities and a whole range of liberal arts colleges. Salam doesn’t seem to understand this, writing as if a college is a college and concluding with support for Obama’s proposed college ratings, even arguing that “he hasn’t gone far enough. It is egregious that students, parents, and taxpayers are the ones who suffer when colleges don’t do their jobs while the colleges in question are left untouched. We simply can’t let them get away with it anymore.”

If only colleges would do their jobs! Those jobs are apparently to prepare students for work by ensuring that they graduate from college with the right degrees. The difference between a college graduate and somebody with “some college,” then, lies solely in whether or not a given student received good advice, took that advice, received (not “earned”!) passing grades, and received (not “earned”!) a diploma, marking him or her as suitable for high-wage employment. Except…

I have spent the past ten years teaching college students. I have a job that privileges teaching and advising. I do everything I can to help my students succeed. The majority of them do. Some of them, however, do not. I can think of a handful of students in the course of my teaching career who simply were not prepared to be successful college students. In some cases, students had insufficient preparation in high school. In others, they were not emotionally ready for college or had family obligations that prevented them from focusing on their courses. Sometimes, these students took the same course with me multiple times and failed each time. Often, these students have failed to complete their degrees because their GPAs were insufficient to remain enrolled.

In my experience, the students who have failed at college for these reasons had a strong desire to succeed but could not make it happen. They were not alone, though. In addition to me and their other professors they had advisors working closely with them. They also received help through academic probation programs and took advantage of free tutors, writing centers, and counseling. It is true that they failed as college students, but it is absolutely not true that their institutions failed them.

I do not mean to downplay the factors that led some students in Armstrong and Hamilton’s study not to do well. There are clearly structural changes that Midwestern University could implement that would benefit students. Implementing the same changes on every campus, though, would be ridiculous. Sort of like trying to use a single rating to measure the success of graduates across all departments at a college or university…

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McGlynn TypologyAbove is what I have decided to call the McGlynn Typology of Faculty Jobs. Posted by Terry McGlynn at Small Pond Science, I think it does a great job of demonstrating the different elements that are emphasized in different types of institutions and, especially, the variation within institutions. As such, it should help graduate students think about the characteristics that they most value so that they can aim for a particular type of job (the title of McGlynn’s post is “What kind of faculty job do you want?”).

Perhaps the best thing about it is that if you think of it as a dart board, it reflects the reality of the job market in that you may end up at an institutional type adjacent to the type that you were targeting. Lots of people who would like to work at research universities, for example, end up working at regional comprehensives. The likelihood of ending up at an institution different from the one you are aiming for, though, probably decreases as you move away from your initial target.


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-Totes, yo!

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Harry Brighouse at Crooked Timber has a nice discussion of Paying for the Party by Elizabeth Armstrong and Laura Hamilton:

The authors lived for a year in a “party” dorm in a large midwestern flagship public university (not mine) and kept up with the women in the dorm till after they had graduated college. The thesis of the book is that the university essentially facilitates (seemingly knowingly, and in some aspects strategically) a party pathway through college, which works reasonably well for students who come from very privileged backgrounds. The facilitatory methods include: reasonably scrupulous enforcement of alcohol bans in the dorms (thus enhancing the capacity of the fraternities to monopolize control of illegal drinking and, incidentally, forcing women to drink in environments where they are more vulnerable to sexual assault); providing easy majors which affluent students can take which won’t interfere with their partying, and which will lead to jobs for them, because they have connections in the media or the leisure industries that will enable them to get jobs without good credentials; and assigning students to dorms based on choice (my students confirm that dorms have reputations as party, or nerdy, or whatever, dorms that ensure that they retain their character over time, despite 100% turnover in residents every year).

The problem is that other students (all their subjects are women), who do not have the resources to get jobs in the industries to which the easy majors orient them, and who lack the wealth to keep up with the party scene, and who simply cannot afford to have the low gpas that would be barriers to their future employment, but which are fine for affluent women, get caught up in the scene. They are, in addition, more vulnerable to sexual assault, and less insulated (because they lack family money) against the serious risks associated with really screwing up. The authors tell stories of students seeking upward social mobility switching their majors from sensible professional majors to easy majors that lead to jobs available only through family contacts, not through credentials. Nobody is alerting these students to the risks they are taking. So the class inequalities at entry are exacerbated by the process. Furthermore, the non-party women on the party floor are, although reasonably numerous, individually isolated—they feel like losers, not being able to keep up with the heavy demands of the party scene. The authors document that the working class students who thrive are those who transfer to regional colleges near their birth homes.

I wonder how these processes work at smaller schools that emphasize the one-on-one advising of students. Is providing warning about majors enough, or is it likely to be seen by students as not supportive of their career goals?

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Since the news broke of a reported job offer being rescinded by Nazareth College, nearly everybody has weighed in on the issue (including Slate, Forbes, Jezebel, Inside Higher Ed, and academic bloggers). Quickly moving past the fact that I think rescinding an offer is wrong, even if none of the requested items can be provided, we can see the way that one’s experiences affect perceptions of the request and reveal how this sort of request may have been made.

My own response to the situation was probably closest to Kate’s at The Professor is In, who writes:

In short, 3 points: 1) rescinding an offer when a client attempts to negotiate is outrageous and unethical; 2) the institutions that rescind offers strongly tend to be tiny teaching colleges with current or former religious affiliations, so if you are dealing with one of those, tread VERY carefully; 3) this candidate, W, made some grievous errors in her approach to the negotiations, showing a tone-deaf lack of sensitivity to the needs of the institution. That does not justify the rescinding. But if she had worked with me on negotiating, I would have told her to remove or rephrase many of the elements on her list of requests, because they were inappropriate to such a small, teaching oriented, resource-poor, service-heavy kind of institution. However, again, her sin of negotiating ineptly is miniscule compared to the sin of an institution summarily rescinding an offer.

At my own institution, things like pre-tenure and parental leaves are based on institutional policies that are not up for negotiation. Regarding salary, the AAUP Faculty Salary Survey can provide candidates with a rough sense of what is normal for a particular institution.

On the other end of the spectrum we have Female Science Professor, who works at a research institution and states:

I don’t know if there is a gender angle to this incident or not, but speaking as someone at a research university, there is nothing in the candidate’s email that surprises or offends me. I have been asked for many of the same or similar things by candidates; some of these requests are routine, some of them require discussion. I say ‘yes’ when I can, and ‘no’ when that is the appropriate response for my department/university. Negotiations can be constructive and interesting discussions.

The gap between these responses is elucidated by David Ball at Inside Higher Ed, who reminds us:

Nazareth’s rashness also reveals a troubling disconnect between SLACs and R1 institutions around the hiring process. Job expectations and institutional cultures are oftentimes dramatically and necessarily different between the two. This communication problem can be exacerbated by the lack of liberal-arts exposure on the part of either the candidate or her advisers and the corroding belief many R1 faculty still propagate that SLACs can’t offer their candidates conditions in which they can flourish, even for those applicants most keen to teach in a liberal-arts setting.

Representatives from SLACs can be understandably fatigued when pushing back against these expectations and gun-shy when candidates demonstrate interests in a research agenda that appear to eclipse their investment as teachers. Graduate departments have an imperative to educate themselves about the expectations of liberal-arts colleges by listening to colleagues and recent Ph.D.s teaching in those settings. Likewise, SLAC hiring committees must proceed, particularly at the negotiation stage, with the knowledge that their hires may be getting advice that is oblivious to the realities of their institution.

Since there is a great deal of variation even within institutional types, it would benefit everybody involved to keep these things in mind when working through the hiring process. And, of course, remember that you should never rescind an offer.

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It is likely that you have read about the job candidate in philosophy whose offer was withdrawn by Nazareth College. The candidate was reportedly told that his or her requests “… indicate an interest in teaching at a research university and not at a college, like ours, that is both teaching and student centered.” Beyond finding the college’s response inexcusable, this statement stood out to me because it sets up “research” and “teaching” institutions as a dichotomy, which I have heard a number of times when talking to those from small liberal arts colleges about things like teaching loads. This dichotomy is demonstrably false not only because it ignores a lot of schools but also because the situations in which it is used reveal as many differences as similarities.

I have heard variations of the statement, “We’re not an R1, so…” to justify teaching loads ranging from 4-4 to 3-2. I imagine that a difference of three courses per year is significant, but it is not the only significant difference. Although I teach three courses per semester, I regularly teach more students per semester than friends who teach four. Despite this, my school does not have the resources of those in the top 100 national liberal arts schools (whether sorted by US News ranking or endowment). There are also large differences between teaching at a school with no religious affiliation, one with a nominal affiliation, and one with a tight coupling between faith and academics.

Talking about SLACs vs. R1s makes for an easy shorthand, and I have certainly discussed the common qualities that many SLACs share. Statements that start with “We’re not an R1, so…”, however, suggest a sort of inferiority complex that might be brought on by working at a school that nobody has ever heard of but that could also be linked to the perceived status of teaching vs. research in academia. After all, I have never heard somebody who works at a research university respond to a question about teaching load by saying “We’re not a SLAC, so…”.

I know that those involved in the job market from both sides are doing their best to make a good impression, but I think that making a good impression can be bolstered by having a bit of self respect. If somebody asks you about the teaching load at your institution, tell them. Then tell them about your class sizes, your students, and what kind of research you’re working on. If that person is a job candidate, giving them a realistic picture of life at your institution can be done without denigrating it. It is okay to reflect the complexities of life in the ivory tower.

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Fabio’s post at Orgtheory today about academic phase transition, in which academics go from being in low demand to being in high demand very quickly, made me think about the experiences of one of my acquaintances from grad school in the publication gauntlet and, to a lesser extent, my own recent experiences.

Quite a few years ago at ASA I was talking to an acquaintance who had graduated and started working at a liberal arts school where he was about to go up for tenure. He was somewhat concerned because the school did not clearly define what the publication expectation was for junior faculty. At the time, he had published one peer reviewed article since starting his job and the official word of the administration was that junior faculty did not need at least two publications but that they did need more than one.

A few years later I was wondering if he had been able to get the necessary (but not required) second publication and checked his profile on the school’s web page. He had published two papers in the year he went up for tenure and two more in the year after receiving tenure. Checking his profile today he has published at least one paper in every year since.

As much as we like to think that we come out of graduate school as fully-formed academics, I suspect that for most people this process is not complete when they receive their Ph.D.s. Personally, it took years before I was able to settle into my current position where I am able to balance teaching and service with getting a bit of research done.  Although my publication productivity has been relatively low up to this point, I hope that I am on the cusp of an academic phase transition of my own.

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The other day I posted my ten favorite posts from the past three years. One thing I’ve been interested in during this time is how people end up here. The ten most-viewed posts from the past three years give some interesting insight into how that happens. There is also relatively little overlap with my ten favorite posts, reinforcing the idea that people will do what they want with what you’ve created. While I would like people to come here because they want to read “Inequality as a room on fire,” then, they’re more likely to come here looking for demeaning pictures of women. The ten most-viewed posts for the past three years were:

1. Sexism sells

This is the most-viewed post by quite a large margin due largely to the search terms that end up leading people to it. “Matchbox” is the number two overall search term and “big women,” “women and cars,” and “small women” are also in the top ten. I think it is safe to say that most people who arrive here after searching for one of those terms leave disappointed.

2. I don’t date sociology majors

This post’s popularity is a combination of the number one search term (“I don’t date sociology majors”) and a link from the political science job rumor forum.

3. PowerPoint, podcasts, and ending the illusion of student reading

This is one of two posts that appears on my list of favorites. I tried to make an important point here so I’m glad that it has been read quite a few times.

4. Turning down a tenure track job

I sometimes wonder if I would have made the same decision if I had known how bad the job market really was in 2008-09. With the benefit of hindsight, I definitely made the right choice.

5. Ten years of Office Space

“Office Space” and “Office Space Poster” are also in the top ten search terms.

6. Floundering on fellowship

Another one of my personal favorites. I’m still suffering from Major Procrastination Disorder.

7. STFU, Students!

These sentiments must still be true since they keep showing up in my dreams.

8. Bad reviews

There’s nothing like a mention on Scatterplot to make you realize how few readers you normally have.

9. The world’s most offensive Christmas song

I have to admit that I may have propped this one up by linking to it again a year later, but it needed to be said. Plan for it to become a Christmas tradition.

10. A compilation of job market resources and advice

I hope that some of these links still work, since “Sociology job market” is the third most popular search term!

One More Thing: The other SLACs

If you type “SLAC” into your browser’s address bar and hit “enter” with the intention of arriving at this site, you may end up at one of these other SLACs instead:



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A lot has changed since my first post three years ago. Parts of the transition from ABD with a job offer to third-year assistant professor at a small liberal arts college have gone the way I expected while others have not. I’ve decided to celebrate the past three years with an early-career retrospective of my ten favorite posts from this time period. When selecting them I was happy to see that they were distributed fairly evenly so that I didn’t end up with a Pearl Jam Twenty situation in which most of the attention is focused on the first 25% of the overall time period. The fact that it was hard to narrow the selection down to ten posts probably speaks more to my self importance than the quality of my posts, but without that self importance I probably would have never started a blog!

My ten favorite posts, in chronological order:

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