Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The 2016 ASA Scavenger Hunt

Over the past few weeks my inbox has been inundated with people saying things like “You haven’t posted much lately but I hope that you’ll still do the ASA Scavenger Hunt!” and “MAGIKARP DEMANDS TO KNOW WHEN THE SCAVENGER HUNT WILL BE POSTED!!!” and “Find the best Medicare supplement plan.”* Fear not, readers, on the eve of the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting, the hunt is ready to be scavenged. Use a Sharpie to cross off completed items on your computer or mobile phone or, if you prefer, download a PDF version here.

2016 ASA Scavenger Hunt

  1. Attend a friend’s presentation even though it is outside of your area
  2. See somebody playing Pokémon Go during a session
  3. Make a joke about economists
  4. Attend the Sociologists for Justice session on Saturday night
  5. Attend a talk in which the presenter is reading from his or her paper with no apparent preparation
  6. Check out the poster presentations
  7. Time how long it takes the ASA app to load when you haven’t used it recently
  8. Attend a session with fewer than five audience members
  9. Go to a business meeting and sign up for a committee
  10. Overhear a sociologist make a racist/sexist/homophobic (etc.) comment
  11. Talk to somebody about SJMR
  12. Ask a good question in a session
  13. Look at somebody’s nametag in an obvious way
  14. Find the unisex restrooms and rate their implementation on a scale of 1-10
  15. Attend DAN and/or a department reception
  16. Get a free drink at a section reception
  17. Go to the blogging party, say you’re John Smith
  18. Talk to somebody from a liberal arts school about his or her research
  19. Talk to somebody from a research school about his or her teaching
  20. Talk to somebody on the job market about his or her ideal job
  21. Introduce two people you know to each other
  22. For Faculty: Buy a student coffee or a meal; For Students: Accept coffee or a meal from a faculty member
  23. Eat a meal alone, confidently
  24. Talk to somebody whose name you can’t remember
  25. Post on social media about ASA
  26. Catch up with a colleague from another institution
  27. Visit the Space Needle
  28. Spend an entire day in Seattle without attending a session
  29. Get a coffee at Starbucks, ironically
  30. Complain about the heat

*Only one of these is an actual e-mail I received.

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive information about scavenger hunts and Medicare supplement plans via your news feed.

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I don’t know of a single college or university administrator that doesn’t want to move up in the U.S. News rankings (possibly in order to improve their brand). These efforts can do harm, increasing pressure to publish, causing rifts between faculty and administration, and creating tension between departments, but how likely are they to result in a better ranking? A recent paper in Research in Higher Education by Gnolek, Falciano, and Kuncl attempts to answer this question. From the abstract:

Results show that for a university ranked in the mid-30 s it would take a significant amount of additional resources, directed in a very focused way, to become a top-ranked national university, and that rank changes of up to ± 4 points should be considered “noise”. These results can serve as a basis for frank discussions within a university about the likelihood of significant changes in rank and provide valuable insight when formulating strategic goals.

The paper discusses research universities, but I assume that similar forces are at play at liberal arts colleges. Check it out (unfortunately, it is behind a paywall).

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links about the impending doom of higher education via your news feed.

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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.

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links via your news feed.

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If you are traveling to New York for ASA, here are some songs to prepare you for arrival:

Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, “Empire State of Mind

Billy Joel, “New York State of Mind

If you can’t make it to ASA in New York, here are some songs that may make you feel better about that:

Soul Coughing, “The Incumbent

The Strokes, “New York City Cops

I’m sorry that some of these selections are hackneyed, but I don’t have much time before leaving for New York myself! Add your own suggestions in the comments.

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Anybody who has ever given an exam recognizes that students work at different speeds. One student may finish in 20 minutes while another might take 60 and, without doing any actual analysis, the amount of time one takes to complete an exam does not seem to be strongly correlated with the student’s grade. Because of this, I have never limited the amount of time that students are given to complete an exam. This semester, however, my class schedule necessitates time limits so that I can get to my next class on time.

This change has led to an increase in incomplete exams, but I’m not convinced that it has decreased exam scores. If a student does not know the material covered on an exam, extra time may increase the chance of the student having something written down but it may not increase the chance of that answer being correct. Students who know the material, on the other hand, may have to work faster than they would prefer but should still have plenty of time (one of my former students had a habit of taking an extra 10-15 minutes to proofread each exam answer before turning it in).

With these things in mind, I still don’t like strict time limits, if only because they probably increase the amount of stress students feel. For this semester, however, all I can do if students don’t feel like they had enough time is recommend that they study harder.


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I’ve noted before that How I Met Your Mother is one of my favorite comedies, but the beginning of this season has been even better thanks to Ted’s experiences teaching architecture to college students.  Full episodes are available online for your time-wasting pleasure, but here are a few clips that provide a taste of what I’m talking about.

First, we have Ted’s first day of class, which is actually similar to my own first day teaching college students.  And second, Ted gives Barney the kind of pop quiz that I can only dream about.  I bet that would get students’ attention.

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Digital Library Update

While I admit that I did not go to the session introducing the digital library, if this is currently online and was freely available during ASA I sure couldn’t find it.  I looked on the terrible ASA website* and I also did web searches but all I could come up with was the Footnotes article I linked to above.  If you attended the session and have any information concerning the whereabouts of said digital library, e-mail me and I’ll post it here.

*Bonus imaginary conversation at ASA Headquarters:

Person 1: I’ve got a new feature that would be cool to add to the website.

Person 2: Hmm… if we add something new we might have to take five minutes to consider how it ties into what’s already there.  I’ll let you add this new feature if you can spare me those five minutes.

Person 1: No problem, we’ll just throw it up there without connecting it in any way whatsoever.

Person 2: What about bandwidth?  Is this going to cost us extra money?

Person 1: Nah.  Nobody will be able to find it without knowing exactly where to look.  We’ll even make people log in again when they finally find it and want to access it.

Person 2: Good.  Nobody should be able to visit our website without logging in three or four times.  We’ve got such valuable information that we need to protect it!

Person 1: That reminds me, there’s a problem with the password server.

Person 2: Just reset them all to the users’ last names.  There’s nothing more secure than a last name!

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