Monthly Archives: April 2010

the down low on torture from up north

I know that most of what passes for news in Canada is pretty tame stuff. It’s mostly of the “how many Canadians were involved in that global tragedy?” variety. But this one is serious, worth the world’s attention–especially the United States. It has been unraveling for quite some time now, and it is just coming to a head. The question is the extent to which the Canadian government was complicit in the torture of detainees in Afghanistan. Continue reading

grading standard

I’m pulling this out of Andrew’s grading policy thread because I’m interested in responses to a very specific question (although the question is relevant to his thread). It is this: What is an A? If I can find nothing wrong with a student paper, they did everything I asked them to do, they worked hard, but it lacks creativity, pizazz, intellectual insight — is that an A or not?  Some papers are clearly better because they are “smarter” but is it fair to downgrade people just because they are not as smart as other people, when you cannot identify anything they could possibly do to improve except, you know, somehow have more to say? It may be relevant that in my system there is an AB grade between A and B. Other schools may be able to distinguish between A and A+ or A-. Do these intermediate grades affect your answers? This is an honors class, and pretty much everybody in it is basically smart and working hard, but some are “better” than others even so. Does that affect your answer? (This is intimately tied to the question of whether grading standards should be absolute or relative, and what the absolute standard should be.)

Note that this distinction is pretty much the same one we make in professional life between the journeymen/women who do well-crafted ordinary science and the “stars” who change our thinking with original insights.

i hear he will kiss your baby

Kieran Healy is begging for votes in his bid to rule the world sit on the Publications Committee for the ASA. I, for one, support his platform to publish the work of junior associate scholars of sexualities and social movements in ASR.

Anyone else looking for bloggerly love in the ASA election? If we can even get Jeremy elected, really, the power of the blog bloc knows no bounds.

asa ballots

American Sociological Association ballots are now out. I’ve posted my ballots some times in the past, but will refrain from doing so this year. The blogging community may wish to note, however, the presence of Kieran Healy on the ballot for committee on publications. Rumor is that our generous pals over at orgtheory are promising drinks for everyone–literally, multiple drinks, for every single member of ASA, including compulsory drinking for teetotalers–if he wins.

speaking truth

We went to a celebration last night of the 81st birthday and retirement-of-sorts of a nun who is a professor of sociology and criminal justice and a social justice activist, who has spent her life working for justice with a special concern for incarcerated women.  He couldn’t stay for dinner, but the Governor (who knew her from back in the day when he was district attorney and teaching part time at her school) dropped by to make a speech about her and give her a an official state plaque full of whereas clauses about her accomplishments. When it was her turn, she said: “So what are you going to do about getting rid of truth in sentencing?”

Ah, those nuns.

more on grading policy

I’ve written before about my work through EPC on grading policy. After a year’s worth of consideration, we are presenting a resolution tomorrow for UNC to report grade distributions on transcripts for each class, and to report grade patterns to faculty each semester.

Two colleagues wrote me a detailed and thoughtful message about the proposal, and while I do not agree with their position, I asked and they agreed to have me post it to scatterplot for further discussion. Their message is below the break; my response and further discussion is posted as the first responses to the post.

Continue reading

we said, ‘send cash,’ not ‘ash’

I’m in London. It’s lovely here — the weather is beautiful. Which is good because I might be here a while. If things keep up with this volcano — and I suspect they will — I have no real chance of leaving any time soon. This is a very odd position to be in. There isn’t much I can do to leave. But I am most certainly going to miss work (teaching). I’m thinking about trying to teach via skype. Who knows if that will work? I’m lucky in that my brother lives in London. So I’m not spending tons of $$$ on a hotel room (there are stories here of people running out of cash — thinking they could go home days ago, only to be stuck here, with hotel bills and food bills. Some have moved out of the hotel and into the airport to save $$$).

The title is a joke that lots of UK people are telling — I gather that they feel much of Iceland’s debt has been absorbed by their banks. And this volcano, it seems, is insult to injury. Wish me luck on getting home! Best case scenario, tomorrow. But we’re likely talking early next week some time. Crazy, no? I’m not sure what to do. I didn’t bring enough work. Perhaps just enjoy the forced holiday. But at some point I’m going to need to fight with other travelers to get on a flight. That will be a rough day at the airport.

article equivalents

I went to a reception yesterday for outstanding women of color at the university. This was a lovely event except that we all had to stand for an hour of awards presentations and keynote. The award winners had all done jaw-dropping amounts of service. The keynoter was a Native American professor whose first career was in journalism. She used the occasion to criticize the academy for failing to give adequate credit for service. She said that diversity is not just a matter of getting darker skins in the place, it is a matter of getting people from different communities who have different priorities. She was arguing that diversifying the institution must include giving greater weight to service in the tenure process, making the “three legs” of the academic stool (teaching, research, service) more evenly balanced. For her and for most women of color, she said, what you do is not just about yourself but about what you contribute to your community. I was reminded of other things I’ve been reading/hearing that confirm the difference between the individualism of White professionals and the family and community focus of other groups. Few communities of color need another article in a peer reviewed journal, she said. Then she said something like: “Each board or committee or community project or group of students mentored is another article or book chapter you don’t have time to write.” There really is a finite amount of time and if you are doing a lot of service you have less time to do research and write. You cannot really diversity the institution unless you change the reward structure to acknowledge the importance of service.

(This in turn reminded me of a brief conversation I had years ago with a couple of very prominent woman sociologists. People had exchanged information on the order of “I’m dealing with children now, you know how that is,” and grunts of acknowledgment. Then one woman said, “I was talking about this to X [prominent male sociologist] and he said that each child he had cost him an article.” Eye rolling, exasperated sighs. One article, right. We wish. “Five or six articles at least,” muttered one woman.)

To clarify: I don’t think institutions can or should reward time spent in child-rearing, although they should accommodate it. But institutions can and probably should better reward time spent in community service. How to do this is a hard issue.

ask a scatterbrain: reviewing bad manuscripts

A reader asks:

I have been asked to review an article that is within my area of expertise. I have reviewed for this journal before. This manuscript is so bad that it is nearly unreadable; I suspect that it was written by someone in another discipline (economics) whose first language is not English. It is honestly worse — both in content and style — than some of the very worst of undergraduate papers I have read. Is it acceptable to recommend rejection without taking up the many problems of the manuscript in extensive comments? Or am I obligated to provide detailed feedback?

real or fictional public opinion stories?

All right scatterbrains, I need your help. I am preparing a fairly major talk and I’d like to use a couple of examples I’ve heard of anecdotally but am not sure they actually exist. I’ve had no luck with “the Google” in finding them either way. So I ask you: have you heard of these, or anything similar?

The first is US public opinion about a fictional US invasion – I’d heard it as “Do you support or oppose the US invasion of Pago Pago”. The upshot is that lots of people give an opinion about the fictional invasion.

The second is asking people where the phrase “From each according to ability, to each according to need” comes from and finding a substantial endorsement for the Declaration of Independence.

Can anyone confirm, deny, or document either of these, or similar? Thanks!

unlocking iphone?

I figure there are some folks here who might have experience unlocking their iphones. I’m traveling abroad. Anyone have any experience unlocking their phone? Is it worth it? I know it will void my warranty, but I have the old 3g phone and my warranty has expired anyway. Or should I just buy one of those disposable phones?

outsourcing grading

The New York Times links to a story from the Chronicle of Higher Ed about a professor of business law and ethics at the University of Houston who felt that her TAs were overburdened with essays to grade, and therefore decided to outsource grading to a firm called EduMetry.

EduMetry assessors in India, Singapore, Malaysia, and other countries grade and give feedback on exams and including writing assignments.  According to the Chronicle article, “The company argues that professors freed from grading papers can spend more time teaching and doing research.”

Who can argue with more time for doing research … but isn’t grading integral to figuring out what students need in planning lectures and seminars?   I wonder if the undergraduates feel they’re getting value for their tuition with outsourced grading?  I can’t help but envision a slippery slope … outsourced faculty?

If anyone works or teaches at a school that outsources grades, I’m curious about the administrative process for approving outsourcing.  Was there a debate and what was it like?

ATL confidential

Okay, so, here’s the thing: we’re going to Atlanta for the ASAs this year. We all know that. And, as with any ASA, there are all kinds of reasons either to go or not to go. I get that. Heck, I often look for good excuses to skip the ASAs. The thing is, though, why do so many of us seem so annoyed about the fact that the ASAs are in Atlanta specifically? Seriously, I’ve lost track of the number of sociologists I’ve heard refer to the city with a sneer in their voice, as though Atlanta is somehow beneath their dignity. But why?
Continue reading

langauge log on evolutionary psyc

OK, I don’t agree with some of this but it’s pretty funny!

morality and markets

Somewhere recently I was reading about moral markets (e.g., making purchase decisions for moral reasons. ) Sadly now I can’t remember where that was…. but nevertheless I was thinking of it when I received an email from the Coalition of Imokalee Workers (CIW) juxtaposing the behaviors of Aramark and Publix with regard to the CIW’s demands for justice for tomato farmworkers in Florida. The CIW website currently has the article up, but I can’t figure out how to link directly to that article. The important links are to this editorial and this article. This is an interesting real-world dispute over the market vs. nonmarket preferences in governing organizational behavior.


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