academia

Flashback Friday.

In a great book, The Averaged American, sociologist Sarah Igo uses case studies to tell the intellectual history of statistics, polling, and sampling. The premise is fascinating:  Today we’re bombarded with statistics about the U.S. population, but this is a new development.  Before the science developed, the concept was elusive and the knowledge was impossible. In other words, before statistics, there was no “average American.”

There are lots of fascinating insights in her book, but a post by Byron York brought one in particular to mind.  Here’s a screenshot of his opening lines (emphasis added by Jay Livingston):

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The implication here is, of course, that Black Americans aren’t “real” Americans and that including them in opinion poll data is literally skewing the results.

Scientists designed the famous Middletown study with exactly this mentality.  Trying to determine who the average American was, scientists excluded Black Americans out of hand.  Of course, that was in the 1920s and ’30s.  How wild to see the same mentality in the 2000s.

Originally posted in 2009.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

If you’ve ever given an academic job talk or lecture, you’ve been this kid…

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Via Next Scientist.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

In 2013, after years of trying to reform the institution from the inside, faculty and students at my college submitted two complaints to the federal government. The combined 330 pages allege sexual harassment, assault, and battery on campus and argue that the college has ignored and silenced victims, mishandled adjudication and, at times, protected men found responsible for assault. We are now under federal investigation.

Forcibly revealing Occidental College’s failings hasn’t been fun for anyone, but it has changed us. It is now easier to report assaults, we are likely more vigilant about recording those reports, and students have more knowledge about their rights. Here is what happened:

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At The Occidental Weekly, Noel Hemphill writes that reports of sexual offenses have skyrocketed. They rose from 12 in 2011 to 64 in 2013. Over half of the cases reported were of incidents that occurred in previous years. That’s normal — victims often take a year or more to decide to come forward — but may also reflect a new desire by survivors to have their experience recorded in official statistics.

These numbers are disturbing, but it is unlikely that they reflect a rise in sexual offenses. Instead, they suggest that survivors of assault are feeling more empowered, have greater faith in their institution, and are pushing for recognition and change.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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By Stacy, who blogs at maraglen.tumblr.com.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

One of the better things about social media is that if you manage to curate social feeds with just the right balance of entertaining spirits and brilliant intellects, it delivers unto you amazing content you would have otherwise missed.

I woke up one of these days — Sunday? Monday? I’m dissertating — to find dozens of messages from social media comrades about John Oliver’s take-down of for-profit colleges. You can watch it here:

It’s very satisfying.

It is particularly satisfying if you’ve experienced what education professor Kevin Kinser rightly points out is the oddly sporadic nature of public interest in a 100 year old institutional practice of selling education for profit. Oliver is one of the best in the entertainment-as-news genre. He reaches people that mainstream media does not. He makes difficult issues palatable for general, concerned audiences.

And if you think about debt, precarity, credentialism, and financial cronyism, like I do, it is gratifying to see someone like Oliver take on an issue most people could care less about until someone they care about borrows $50,000 for a veterinary assistant’s degree. Then they’re emailing you like the roof is on fire.

I do have a greater hope, though, than that something I study benefit from the spotlight of people like Oliver.

I wish we could talk about impoverished educations without ignoring impoverished conditions.

Here’s the thing, for-profit colleges have manipulated a system primed for manipulation. No doubt about that. But eliminating for-profit colleges does not eliminate the conditions that cause people to seek them out.

By and large, none of the people I have interviewed, observed or worked with is an idiot without agency. They have sometimes been lied to and led astray; occasionally they are bamboozled by sparkly advertising and aggressive sales tactics. They do sign documents they do not completely understand and they trust authority that has little incentive to counsel as opposed to sell. All of that is true.

But most students picked up the phone to “call today; start tomorrow” because they have been unemployed, underemployed, marginalized, and otherwise made vulnerable by socio-economic conditions.

So, by all means, crib Oliver’s letter. It’s a doozy.

But maybe keep in mind that moving inequality around isn’t exactly the same as addressing inequality.

Tressie McMillan Cottom is a PhD candidate in the Sociology Department at Emory University in Atlanta, GA.  Her doctoral research is a comparative study of the expansion of for-profit colleges.  You can follow her on twitter and at her blog, where this post originally appeared.

By Stacy, who blogs at maraglen.tumblr.com.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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I got this email from an Ivy League student when I arrived to give a speech. She was responsible for making sure that I was delivered to my hotel and knew where to go the next day:

Omg you’re here! Ahh i need to get my shit together now lol. Jk. Give me a ring when u can/want, my cell is [redacted]. I have class until 1230 but then im free! i will let the teacher she u will be there, shes a darling. Perhaps ill come to the end of the talk and meet you there after. Between the faculty lunch and your talk, we can chat! ill take make sure the rooms are all ready for u. See ya!

To say the least, this did not make me feel confident that my visit would go smoothly.

I will use this poor student to kick off this year’s list of Professors’ Pet Peeves. I reached out to my network and collected some things that really get on instructors’ nerves. Here are the results: some of the “don’ts” for how to interact with your professor or teaching assistant. For what it’s worth, #2 was by far the most common complaint.

1. Don’t use unprofessional correspondence.

Your instructors are not your friends. Correspond with them as if you’re in a workplace, because you are. We’re not saying that you can’t ever write like this, but you do need to demonstrate that you know when such communication is and isn’t appropriate. You don’t wear pajamas to a job interview, right? Same thing.

2. Don’t ask the professor if you “missed anything important” during an absence.

No, you didn’t miss anything important. We spent the whole hour watching cats play the theremin on youtube!

Of course you missed something important! We’re college professors! Thinking everything we do is important is an occupational hazard. Here’s an alternative way to phrase it: “I’m so sorry I missed class. I’m sure it was awesome.”

If you’re concerned about what you missed, try this instead: Do the reading, get notes from a classmate (if you don’t have any friends in class, ask the professor if they’ll send an email to help you find a partner to swap notes with), read them over, and drop by office hours to discuss anything you didn’t understand.

3. Don’t pack up your things as the class is ending.

We get it. The minute hand is closing in on the end of class, there’s a shift in the instructor’s voice, and you hear something like “For next time…” That’s the cue for everyone to start putting their stuff away. Once one person does it, it’s like an avalanche of notebooks slapping closed, backpack zippers zipping, and cell phones coming out.

Don’t do it.

Just wait 10 more seconds until the class is actually over. If you don’t, it makes it seem like you are dying to get out of there and, hey, that hurts our feelings!

4. Don’t ask a question about the readings or assignments until checking the syllabus first.

It’s easy to send off an email asking your instructor a quick question, but that person put a lot of effort into the syllabus for a reason. Remember, each professor has dozens or hundreds of students. What seems like a small thing on your end can add up to death-by-a-thousand-paper-cuts on our end. Make a good faith effort to figure out the answer before you ask the professor.

5. Don’t get mad if you receive critical feedback.

If an instructor takes a red pen and massacres your writing, that’s a sign that they care. Giving negative feedback is hard work, so the red ink means that we’re taking an interest in you and your future. Moreover, we know it’s going to make some students angry at us. We do it anyway because we care enough about you to try to help you become a stronger thinker and writer. It’s counterintuitive but lots of red ink is probably a sign that the instructor thinks you have a lot of potential.

6. Don’t grade grub.

Definitely go into office hours to find out how to study better or improve your performance, but don’t go in expecting to change your instructor’s mind about the grade. Put your energy into studying harder on the next exam, bringing your paper idea to the professor or teaching assistant in office hours, doing the reading, and raising your hand in class. That will have more of a pay-off in the long run.

7. Don’t futz with paper formatting.

Paper isn’t long enough? Think you can make the font a teensy bit bigger or the margins a tad bit wider? Think we won’t notice if you use a 12-point font that’s just a little more widely spaced? Don’t do it. We’ve been staring at the printed page for thousands of hours. We have an eagle eye for these kinds of things. Whatever your motivation, here’s what they say to us: “Hi Prof!, I’m trying to trick you into thinking that I’m fulfilling the assignment requirements. I’m lazy and you’re stupid!” Work on the assignment, not the document settings.

8. Don’t pad your introductions and conclusions with fluff.

Never start off a paper with the phrase, “Since the beginning of time…” “Since the beginning of time, men have engaged in war.” Wait, what?  Like, the big bang? And, anyway, how the heck do you know? You better have a damn strong citation for that. “Historically,” “Traditionally,” and “Throughout history” are equally bad offenders. Strike them from your vocabulary now.

In your conclusion, say something smart. Or, barring that, just say what you said. But never say: “Hopefully someday there will be no war.” Duh. We’d all like that, but unless you’ve got ideas as to how to make it that way, such statements are simple hopefulness and inappropriate in an academic paper.

9. Don’t misrepresent facts as opinions and opinions as facts.

Figure out the difference. Here’s an example of how not to represent a fact, via CNN:

Considering that Clinton’s departure will leave only 16 women in the Senate out of 100 senators, many feminists believe women are underrepresented on Capitol Hill.

Wait. Feminists “believe”? Given that women are 51% of the population, 16 out of 100 means that women are underrepresented on Capitol Hill. This is a social fact, yeah? Now, you can agree or disagree with feminists that this is a problem, but don’t suggest, as CNN does, that the fact itself is an opinion.

This is a common mistake and it’s frustrating for both instructors and students to get past. Life will be much easier if you know the difference.

10. Don’t be too cool for school.

You know those students that sit at the back of the class, hunch down in their chair, and make an art of looking bored? Don’t be that person.  Professors and teaching assistants are the top 3% of students. They likely spent more than a decade in college. For better or worse, they value education. To stay on their good side, you should show them that you care too. And, if you don’t, pretend like you do.

Click here for a series of discussion questions and activities for the piece designed for students of composition by Dr. Nicole Boucher Spottke for The Kirkman Reader.

Thanks to @triciasryan, @hormiga, @wadewitz, @ameenaGK, @holdsher, @joanneminaker, @k_lseyrisman, @jessmetcalf87, @deeshaphilyaw, @currerbell, and @hist_enthusiast, and @gwensharpnv for their ideas!  Originally posted in 2013; cross-posted at Business Insider and Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

In the lasts 15 years, student debt has grown by over 1,000% and the debt held by public colleges and universities has tripled.  Where is the money going?

The scholars behind a new report, Borrowing Against the Future: The Hidden Costs of Financing U.S. Higher Education, argue that profit is the culprit.  They write:

Scholars have offered several explanations for these high costs including faculty salaries, administrative bloat, and the amenities arms race. These explanations, however, all miss a crucial piece of the puzzle.

Sociologist Charlie Eaton and his colleagues crunched the numbers and found that spending on actual education has stagnated, while financial speculators have been taking an increasing amount of money off of the top.

Higher education fills the pockets of investors in three ways:

  • Interest on student loans, paid by students and parents.
  • Interest paid by colleges who take out loans to fund projects — everything from new academic buildings to luxury dorms and stadiums — ultimately repaid with tuition hikes and higher taxes.
  • And profit from for-profit colleges (with “dismal graduation rates, by the way).

Take a look at this figure breaking down the sources of the rise in the cost of higher education.  Interest on debt — taken on by both students and the colleges they attend — has risen.  Meanwhile, direct profits from for-profit colleges have skyrocketed.

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Overall, Eaton and his colleagues found that Americans are spending $440 billion dollars a year on higher education and that 10% of that goes into the pockets of investors who are skimming profit off of all forms of higher education.

Want more?  Read their report or watch their summary:

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.