The College of Social Sciences Dean’s Profile web page concludes with “[a] non-academic passion for Walt is science fiction movies and television. He has hosted informal discussions of The X‑Files, and is currently a fan of Orphan Black on BBC America.” Today in the conference room the “Dean Team” — me, the Associate Dean, the two previous Associate Deans, and the Academic Resources Manager — gathered in the conference room to watch Orphan Black‘s premiere episode, which introduces the show’s fascinating exploration of the ethical, technological, and social scientific implications of human cloning. After the inevitable streaming video glitches were fixed I was able to introduce three folks to a great show, and remind the fourth person about it (she has not seen anything since season 2; we are now in season 4). We could not have too much discussion afterwards, as it’s hard to avoid spoilers, so we’ll have to gather again after they finish binge-watching season 1!

There is a new book out on key terms in academic life:

From ABD to P&T, higher education has its own language (and we’re not even talking about discipline-specific jargon or academese). Most Ph.D. hopefuls become fluent via the immersion method (aka graduate school), but what if there was a dictionary of sorts to help out along the way? Now there is. The PhDictionary: A Glossary of Things You Don’t Know (but Should) About Doctoral and Faculty Life (University of Chicago Press) decodes — in alphabetical order — 149 key terms for academics. Beyond basic definitions, author Herb Childress, co-founder of the consulting firm Teleidoscope Group and former dean of research and assessment at the Boston Architectural College, illuminates each term with stories about his own off-the-beaten-path journey through graduate school and the professoriate.

I’ll have to check this out. In my last year of graduate school, Academic Keywords: A Devil’s Dictionary for Higher Education was released, and it provided great insights as I prepared for my first appointment as a professor. It sounds like The PhDictionary will do the same for the next generation of aspiring academics!

When I was on the faculty at the University of Minnesota I occasionally served on graduate student committees. The last student with whom I’m working (on his Ph.D.) contacted me today about his dissertation defense date, so the era of working on graduate student committees might be coming to an end, given my full schedule of administrative activities. Then again, I was never the primary advisor on a committee; most of the students I worked with were doing unconventional things and needed a source of support in negotiating with more traditional mentors, so I can probably still serve in that capacity. In the meantime, graduate students are on my SJSU College of Social Sciences student advisory board, so I’ll always maintain some contact with them!

The Pacific Standard magazine has a short article about a book with a very intriguing title: Why Does the Other Line Always Move Faster? The Myths and Misery, Secrets and Psychology of Waiting in Line. I will have to add this book to my reading list, as I always end up in long lines, no matter what!

After not completely stopping before making a right turn on red — what I’m told is called a “California Stop” — I had to sign up for online traffic school. The experience was not as bad as I feared, as students are allowed to proceed at their own pace, and there is no penalty for finishing earlier than anticipated. (When I took online training as part of new employee orientation here at SJSU, for example, one could not proceed from one section to the next until the time allocated for the section had expired, so lots of time was spent watching the counter count down.) Also, I was pleasantly surprised to see that social science research was cited. Here’s an example: “Different people have different beliefs about what causes road rage. A sociologist might say society as a whole has broken down and the values we shared have deteriorated. A psychologist might say vehicles provide drivers with a sense of power as well as anonymity, which can lead to road rage. If you ask traffic engineers they may claim lack of proper driving skills and driving at variable speeds leads to acts of road rage.”

Later in the section on road rage we get this: “Lack of respect for the law is another factor that encourages aggressive driving. The moral values of our society have changed over the years, and it has led to the growing lack of respect for law enforcement authorities. Many people believe factors like breaking down of the extended family, influence of media, and other aspects of modern society have led to this attitude toward the law and authority.” It would have been really nice if the authors had thrown in sources for further reading, but at least some basic information is presented. Hopefully some students will take the initiative to do additional research on their own!

Inside Higher Ed is reporting that the California State University System has signed an agreement with a private company to make electronic portfolios (e-portfolios) available to its students and graduates. San Jose State is part of the CSU system, so I’ll have to keep an eye on this partnership as it rolls out. Any tool that helps students better highlight their accomplishments is something that we should encourage!

One of the tasks those of us working in the social sciences and humanities have these days is assuring students that they can get good jobs with degrees in liberal arts fields. It’s heartening to see more opinion pieces popping up that support that effort. Recently, for instance, I came across three examples:

  1. In a Financial Times column the economist John Kay wrote about how a liberal education is now more useful than job-specific skills. He notes, “those who argue that more resources should be devoted to teaching STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) have a point, but not the point they generally make…It is a mistake to focus basic education on job-specific skills that a changing world will render redundant in a few years. The objective should be to equip students to enjoy rewarding employment and fulfilling lives in a future environment whose demands we can neither anticipate nor predict.”
  2. The Washington Post published an article noting that tech companies are hiring more liberal-arts majors than you think. Brian Fung reports that “liberal arts graduates joined the ranks of tech companies at a faster clip in the past few years than their engineering and computer-science counterparts, according to an analysis by LinkedIn of its own users. And of the recent liberal arts grads the company examined, as many as 2 in 5 now work at an Internet or software company.”
  3. In the article “The Future of Work: Preparing Students for a Changing World of Work,” University of Maryland-Baltimore County President Freeman A. Hrabowski III discussed the skills developed in studying liberal arts fields: “As employers now routinely ask for T-shaped employees–those with deep technical knowledge and broad business and people skills–postsecondary institutions must now provide students with knowledge in their fields and encourage them to develop a strong work ethic and persistence; an appreciation of the larger contexts of their work; and the ability to work in groups and to market their ideas.”

Let’s hope that these types of articles continue to appear!


Today I spoke with 8th grade students from the Upward Bound program of Tarrant County College (Fort Worth, TX). Thanks to SJSU Professor Wendy Ng for the action shots!

“What worries you most—and/or excites you most—about the future of work and workers? Put another way: What will be the most consequential changes in the world of work and workers, and what anxieties and possibilities will they produce?”

The above questions are posed on the Pacific Standard magazine’s online special section on “The Future of Work.”  In a project that begun on August 3, short essays and analyses are posted weekly, and the November/December 2015 print issue of the magazine will include new original work that will be published with some of the articles that are first posted online. It seems like a very intriguing project; a similar initiative could be launched by a college of social sciences!

On July 6 I will become the new Dean of the College of Social Sciences at San José State University. While July 2015 is the start of my third year as a Dean, it will be my first year at SJSU, so I’ll re-start regular “Dispatches From a New Dean” entries!