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Posts Tagged ‘Slate’

A few days ago, L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling was revealed to have said some racist things. Although his fate as owner of an NBA team has not yet been determined, his ability to interact with those on his team and attend NBA games has been; he has been banned for life.

There are a number of interesting sociological questions related to this situation. One concerns the relationship between private statements and personal property. Another is related to types of discrimination and why statements that gain public attention can have more severe consequences than years of discriminatory practices. Although NBA players are paid very well, we can also use this situation to examine relationships between owners and players. Finally, Doug Hartmann at The Society Pages has a nice exploration of the situation’s impact on our understanding of racism in America.

Included in Hartmann’s post is a message from Max Fitzpatrick of Central New Mexico Community College (Edit: Fitzpatrick’s message is now its own post). Fitzpatrick writes:

Instead of merely being what Marx sarcastically called “critical critics”—those who attempt social redress through words alone—we should take these opportunities to bring attention to—and to change—the poor social conditions and institutional discrimination disproportionately faced by people of color. Attacking the material foundations of the problem will be more effective than simply laughing at the wrinkled old symptoms of the problem.

In some ways, the Sterling situation seems to support Fabio’s claim that, while we are not “post-racial,” we may be “post-racist.” Although racism is still prevalent, its public expression has been severely limited. As Fitzpatrick and Hartmann note, however, this may actually serve to make racism and discrimination more dangerous, since they continue to have serious negative effects even when society claims that they don’t.

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Since the news broke of a reported job offer being rescinded by Nazareth College, nearly everybody has weighed in on the issue (including Slate, Forbes, Jezebel, Inside Higher Ed, and academic bloggers).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.

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links 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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Here are a few Super Bowl-related posts via the Society Pages.

From Slate, research on perceptions and slow motion.

Or, if you prefer, you can find out all you need to know about Superb Owl Sunday here.

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

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Amanda Hess at Slate reports on ESPN’s documentary The Price of Gold, which focuses on Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan and features an interesting look into the ways that appearance and social class interconnect in the world of figure skating. Hess writes:

As Nanette Burstein’s documentary makes clear, the Kerrigan-Harding affair unfolded in a commercial landscape in which economic potential hinges on appearance as much as it does athleticism. By the early ’90s, Kerrigan and Harding were toe-to-toe in American figure skating competition, but when it came to monetizing their skills, Kerrigan was skating on an elevated plain. Though both athletes emerged from working-class backgrounds, Kerrigan was blessed with patrician good looks and a sophisticated air that easily courted corporate sponsorships and Hollywood attention. “Nancy looked like she was wealthy,” is how Boston Globe reporter John Powers puts it in the documentary. Harding, counters Connie Chung, was the “girl with frizzy blonde hair from the wrong side of the tracks.” And their performance styles reinforced the divide: While Harding powered through technical routines, Kerrigan danced.

And so Kerrigan’s face soon became as famous as her feats on the ice. She began raking in endorsements early in her career, filming spots for Campbell’s soup, L’Oreal, and Reebok; in 1992, she starred in a televised Christmas special. But even when Harding became the first American woman to land a triple axel in competition, in 1991, no one wanted her to sell anything. “She was a great skater. I was a great skater. But she was treated like this big queen,” Harding says in the documentary. “She’s a princess, and I’m a pile of crap.” At one point in the film, Harding recalls wearing a bright-pink costume in competition that she had sewn herself. “It was really pretty!” she says. But “one of the judges came up to me afterwards and said … ‘If you ever wear anything like that again at a U.S. championship, you will never do another one.’” Harding shot back that until the judges gave her $5,000 to buy a designer piece, “You can get out of my face!” Meanwhile, as Sarah Marshall detailed in The Believer this month, Kerrigan had Vera Wang designing her costumes gratis.

Although the scandal involving Harding and Kerrigan happened over 20 years ago, the situation has not necessarily changed for female athletes. Hess notes:

Last year, Maria Sharapova earned almost twice as much endorsement money as Serena Williams—$23 million to $12 million—even though Williams has racked up twice as many points as Sharapova in singles competitions over the past year and has beaten Sharapova 14 consecutive times. Twelve mil is still a decent amount of scratch—and Sharapova is also an excellent player—but the fact remains that Williams has to work harder to make less money.

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Penguin Claus by Mark Stamaty

Fox News reports on an article by Aisha Harris at Slate suggesting that Santa should be depicted as a penguin, managing to combine white privilege (“Just because it makes you uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change”), Santa, and a blatantly false statement about the skin color of a Middle Eastern man named Jesus.

Harris responds to Fox News here, writing:

Changing Santa does not mean we’re being “politically correct.” It means we’re expanding our perceptions of the “norm.” The argument that Santa must be white spills over into conversations about other, equally fictional characters. Can James Bond or Spider-Man be played by people of color? Why not? And yet some people will tell you—believe me—that they have to be white. Of course, some people also believe that characters who were written as people of color are not actually people of color. Which goes to show how deeply rooted the idea of “whiteness” as the default really is. And that presumption carries over into our everyday lives as well, sometimes with sad results.

For the record, I fully support Penguin Claus. If you’re looking for a new song to add to the Christmas canon (radio stations need something to play instead of “The Christmas Shoes“!), writing one about Penguin Claus is a good place to start!

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If you have sociologists as Facebook friends you have probably seen this commercial for GoldieBlox, set to a revised version of “Girls” by the Beastie Boys:

Since it debuted on November 17 it has received over 8 million YouTube views and gotten enough attention to be both lauded and lambasted. As summarized by Katy Waldman at Slate:

As GoldieBlox stands to attract even more publicity (it is one of four finalists in a contest for small businesses to air an ad during the Super Bowl), we should ask whether its products live up to the company’s message. Does GoldieBlox actually “disrupt the pink aisle,” inspiring girls to trade in their tiaras for goggles—or is it a cynical attempt to straddle the market by hooking parents on a message of empowerment while enticing kids with the same old glittery crap?

GoldieBlox highlights some of the same difficulties that Lisa Wade discussed in relation to Miley Cyrus. If young girls want pink things, and the products on display in toy aisles suggest that they do, it makes sense that a company would try to profit by giving them what they want. If parents, on the other hand, don’t want to reinforce negative stereotypes, it also makes sense that a company would try to profit by giving them what they want. Wade writes:

That’s how power works. It makes it so that essentially all choices can be absorbed into and mobilized on behalf of the system.  Fighting the system on behalf of the disadvantaged – in this case, women – requires individual sacrifices that are extraordinarily costly.  In Cyrus’ case, perhaps being replaced by another artist who is willing to capitulate to patriarchy with more gusto.  Accepting the rules of the system translates into individual gain, but doesn’t exactly make the world a better place.  In Cyrus’ case, her success is also an affirmation that a woman’s worth is strongly correlated with her willingness to commodify her sexuality.

Despite their interesting commercial, GoldieBlox are a product (is a product? Goldie Blox appears to be the name of a girl in the line of products). No matter how much we want it to be a subversive company that sticks it to The Man for young girls everywhere, its existence and success depends on the same system as every other toy. So we end up with pink building toys with narratives designed to appeal to girls who have already accepted stereotypical notions of femininity whose parents want them to realize that being female does not limit their potential. All in the name of profit.

Update: See also Elline Lipkin’s take at Girl With Pen.

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Shonda Rhimes, creator of TV shows Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, recently talked to NPR. According to Amanda Hess at Slate, one of the things she discussed was the challenge of getting Grey’s Anatomy on the air:

When NPR asked Rhimes if she helped “create the change” in representing complicated and diverse women on screen, Rhimes told the story of pitching the medical drama Grey’s Anatomy to ABC in 2005. Rhimes conceived of Grey’s as a racially diverse show featuring “smart women competing against one another” that she’d actually watch. But higher-ups at ABC had different ideas about what women really wanted. “A bunch of older guys told me that nobody was going to watch a show about a woman who had casual sex and threw a guy out the night before her first day of work—that that was completely unrealistic and that nobody wanted to know that woman,” Rhimes told NPR. “I remember sitting in that meeting and thinking, ‘Wow they don’t know anything about what’s going on in the world right now.’ ”

I’m not sure how the show was allowed to move forward at ABC without changes, but it apparently was and is now in its tenth season. Rimes doesn’t think those views would be expressed today, partly because of the success of Grey’s Anatomy:

“That kind of conversation would never happen now,” Rhimes told NPR. Executives are “no longer worried about whether or not the women are likeable.” It used to be that if you pitched a show with a female lead, “it was so rare [that] everyone wanted that person to be perfect, because she had to represent everybody.” White female characters, at least, are now allowed to be complex. Scandal‘s Olivia Pope, however, “is very rare because she’s an African-American woman,” Rhimes told NPR, “and everyone wants her to be perfect because she has to represent everyone.” The good news is that Rhimes now has the clout to reject that premise: “There’s a box you get put in. My goal is to blow that box wide open.”

Rhimes is speaking to a central challenge of breaking gender and race barriers on television: Because nonwhite, non-male leads represents a risk for a network, producers can put pressure on writers to play it safe in other ways. But characters that are designed to “represent” all women, or all black women, are guaranteed to be boring to pretty much everyone. Rhimes is successful enough now that she can call the shots. I’d be interested to hear how these diversity and likability conversations go with television creators who are not established powerhouses.

As Hess points out, it is great that Rhimes has enough clout to  do what she wants, but the underlying fear on the part of executives likely remains. As long as diversity on TV is rare there will be pressure to make diverse characters bland. When these shows fail the executives will likely point to the fact that the shows featured diverse characters, not their blandness, as the reason for this failure, reinforcing the idea that audiences don’t connect with diverse characters. Hopefully, shows like Scandal and Orange is the New Black will help break this cycle rather than remaining aberrations.

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In times of rampant academic false consciousness, it is no surprise that some people choose to leave academia. Rebecca Shuman at Slate provides a roundup of what she calls “an Important, Growing Subgenre of American Essays,” focusing on Zachary Ernst’s “Why I Jumped Off the Ivory Tower.” Some of his reasons involve the corporatization of higher education. As Shuman writes:

His essay has ignited academic Facebook, and may be pilloried by those who find his departing huff to be immature, ungrateful or unprofessional. But even to his detractors, his climactic critique of the “corporatization” of the American university should be unassailable (at least until the end). As has become common in higher education, the University of Missouri system now hires former multinational CEOs as presidents, on the basis of what Ernst criticizes as nebulous and irrelevant “business experience”—but not because Ernst is himself “anti-business.” Rather, he explains, a multinational CEO focuses on “marketing, cutting costs, and improving outcomes that are based on short-term economic measures. This means serving more customers with a smaller number of employees while cutting costs.” This actually makes no business sense in the university world.

I suspect that the hiring of CEOs as university presidents will lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy. That is, trustees may see the failure of a president/CEO as a sign that a better, more experienced CEO should be hired since the first obviously didn’t have enough business experience to run a university…

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At Slate, Mark Liberman tells journalists to stop presenting paraphrases as quotations, presenting six Mitt Romney “quotations” and what he actually said. For some reason, differences like these have always been interesting to me, whether or not they are related to work by a sociologist. I am also bothered by magazines that use pull quotes that differ from the quotation in the actual text.

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