Monthly Archives: April 2011

conflicts of interest

There’s still a lot of protest and politics going on in Wisconsin, although the national attention has turned elsewhere. At least 8 state senators (5 Republican 3 Democrat) will face recall elections. The “collective bargaining bill” and our 6-8% effective pay cuts (by way of deductions for retirement and health insurance) are delayed by a court case.

One of the ugly elements of this struggle that has not been national news is the part relating to the University. Part of Gov. Walker’s infamous budget bill bomb was a restructuring of the University of Wisconsin to separate out UW Madison as a public authority. He had met privately with Chancellor Martin* to get her proposal, and included it in his budget bill along with a huge funding cut. UW System cried foul, as they’d agreed to bargain in a block and accused Chancellor Martin of bad faith — a claim she disputed, saying that the Governor had asked her not to talk to others and telling her that he would talk to the System people, and that the System president had also had private meetings with the Governor that he did not disclose to others. The Chancellor’s story sounds plausible to me — there is other evidence that Gov. Walker’s plan was to take all opponents by surprise with a blitzkrieg.

Politically, Walker’s agenda is pretty clearly to sow dissent among those who would otherwise be united in opposing him. I don’t think even Republicans are arguing that the inclusion of the proposal in the budget bill was a good-hearted effort to do what is best for the University. They way it was done was obviously calculated to embarrass Chancellor Martin. However, Chancellor Martin and a lot of faculty do think that the public authority is something they have wanted and worked for for a long time, and support the bill.** Other faculty are lining up against the bill. Continue reading

too big to fail

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article by Jonathan Cole on the NRC rankings debacle that makes a couple of references to sociology. [HT: CP]

further information about the dues increase

ASA has provided three statements about the dues increase: one regarding revenues and expenses; one regarding revenue needs; and comparing dues to AAA and APSA.

Honestly? Sure, it is still hard for me to swallow the relationship between our dues and that of other organizations. BUT: however one ultimately assesses the dues increase–and whatever particular issues a closer reading might raise–I must say that I do feel a lot better about my professional organization than I did after I read the rationale for the dues increase provided in the last issue. Really. I mean this both with respect to the amount of substantive detail in the statements, and the overall approach as a serious, straight engagement with us as fellow professionals, members, and volunteers. I am grateful to Kate Berheide for her work here. If anything that I have myself said or done here or elsewhere happened to contribute to members having been provided with a considerably superior account of what the dues, revenues, and costs of their professional organization are, I am proud. I truly hope this ends up proving one step toward a broader change in which members feel the finances of their association are less mysterious.

(Note: There is one factual detail related to Pub Comm that I feel either needs to be verified or corrected, and I have registered my concern about this. I hope that matter will be resolved.)

everett hughes fieldwork syllabus

There’s a bit of a discussion over at orgtheory on the Venkatesh Slate piece. I suspect I’m going to get hammered for suggesting that the Chicago School didn’t care that much about European theorizing (particularly Park and Simmel — yes, I know Park studied with Simmel in Germany at the turn of the century!). Still this led me to go back to the 1947 ethnography syllabus I have of Everett Hughes. Iterations of this are likely with the likes of Goffman, Becker, and Gans encountered in either their classes or mentorship. I thought you all might enjoy. Here it is.

of grade reform and deliberation

On Friday, UNC’s faculty council approved legislation that will put into place a series of reforms aimed at increased transparency in grade reporting. I chaired the implementation committee, charged with the details of how last year’s resolution (see discussion here) would be implemented, and I presented the legislation at faculty council on Friday.

My first observation is that Faculty Council has become more deliberative–that is to say, less complacent–than it was when I was on it. Members asked good, probing, and challenging questions to several of the items on the agenda prior to mine. Then came mine… with more challenging questions! One member protested that we “hadn’t had enough time” to evaluate the proposal (this having been approved in concept a full year before, discussed several times before and during that period, and through countless small group discussions). Another member, from the School of Education, found fault with the proposal because “we want all our students to be above average” (I kid you not). Another member, from the School of Journalism, argued that we should be moving to a different system based on pass/fail/honors.

At the time, and immediately afterward, I was really irritated with all of this (and I still am, to some extent). After all, Faculty Council had passed a resolution a year ago making the policy official. Our committee was charged with implementing it, so concerns with whether or not the policy was a good idea are no longer relevant, right? There’s a built-in evaluation clause that allows us to revisit the policy, this time with some data, five years after implementation.

I was relieved that the policy passed, 21-13, and so will be implemented, and I’m looking forward to working with our truly wonderful registrar on the nitty-gritty. I think it’s really important, and will be really good for UNC and hopefully for higher education in general.

On reflection, I have also become much less bitter over the Council’s debate (and one of my colleagues’ “no” vote!). It was definitely frustrating to have to deal with the “two steps forward, one step back” feel of the discussion, but I guess that’s what deliberation is about.

Update: Coverage in Inside Higher Ed here.

venkatesh on anderson

Sudhir Venkatesh just wrote a review of Elijah Anderson’s new book, The Cosmopolitan Canopy, on Slate. It’s an interesting review. Venkatesh takes the review as an opportunity to suggest that sociology has lost its way. His claim is that we need a new, more flexible approach to socio-analysis. He writes,

Having made our hearts race with this venture into a new and more psychologically subtle frontier, however, Anderson retreats to the public terrain of more humdrum interactions and to the posture of detached eavesdropper that have been his staples. He concludes his book with some tepid observations about the “canopy” that embraces us all. He pursues neither the theme of black animus nor the public-private split.

Anderson’s fascinating foray and his inability to tie together the seemingly contradictory threads highlight the new challenges that face our field. On the one hand, sociology has moved far away from its origins in thoughtful feet-on-the ground analysis, using whatever means necessary. A crippling debate now pits the “quants,” who believe in prediction and a hard-nosed mathematical approach, against a less powerful, motley crew—historians, interviewers, cultural analysts— who must defend the scientific rigor and objectivity of any deviation from the strictly quantitative path. In practice, this means everyone retreats to his or her comfort zone. Just as the survey researcher isn’t about to take up with a street gang to gather data, it is tough for an observer to roam free, moving from one place to another as she sees fit, without risking the insult: “She’s just a journalist!” (The use of an impenetrable language doesn’t help: A common refrain paralyzing our field is, “The more people who can understand your writing, the less scientific it must be.”)… In Anderson’s case, the greatest contribution of his book may be simply the diagnosis of a contradiction that cannot be neatly summed up in a tidy blog post or expedient reportage—or a scientific, sociological survey for that matter: Americans have become more tolerant in their public dealings, but at the cost of moving some of the animus to quieter, less visible quarters. Better to point it out, however speculative and provisional the results may be, than to hide from the truth.

The post is bound to annoy a lot of people. But there is something there. Worth a read, if for no other reason than it is a portrait of one major public sociologists by another in a place that many people read.

making the big time

The online dues petition hatched here by Ezra & co. was written up as a brief news story in Inside Higher Ed today. For those of you who have not signed, and are interested in doing so, you can find the petition here. One good sign is that Sally Hillsman is quoted as saying “‘it is clear that our members need and want more information.'” The story also said that she indicated that there would be more information for members.

asa council member on the dues increase

I had no plans for further public comment on the ASA dues proposal [petition here], but John Logan, a member of ASA Council, has left a comment on Gabriel’s Code and Culture blog regarding the proposal that is worth highlighting. As you know, it has been emphatically asserted on this blog (and elsewhere) that (a) the dues changes would increase overall revenue to ASA and that (b) this is a much more important part of the proposal than what one would gather from the way the proposal was presented to membership, which nowhere directly acknowledges increasing revenue as part of its rationale. Dues increases beyond cost-of-living require a member vote for a reason, and a fully informed membership is essential to this process.

From Logan’s comment: Continue reading

petition for asa transparency now available

The petition to the ASA requesting an increase in its transparency surrounding the proposed dues increase is available now at ASAtransparency.org.

Information about the authors of the petition, as well as links to previous blog conversations regarding this proposal, have been assembled here.

Feel free to sign if you are so inclined, or to discuss in the comments below.

in my inbox

I received the following e-mail this morning.  Does anyone know what this is about?  Or, for that matter, what an “explicative action” is?  Have laser pointers become so powerful now that an instructor casually swinging one around might blind or behead a student?

I’m the appointed Laser Safety Officer for the whole University.  Please distribute 
this notice to your peers, colleagues and students.

Continue reading

the subtractions

I’ve been thinking a lot about subtraction lately, and specifically about the issue of the relative contributions of adding to knowledge versus subtracting from “knowledge.” But, on the general topic, a familiar demonstration of the benefits of subtraction has been that Garfield comic strips become more evocative when Garfield‘s dialogue is removed or when Garfield is removed entirely. Now, somebody has been working on an even more poignant demonstration using a much better comic strip: the morose beauty of Peanuts with the last panel deleted.

goon squad wins!

Sure, I get why millions of people follow college basketball, but I don’t understand why more people don’t follow March Madness: The Morning News Tournament of Books. Sixteen books going head-to-head in critical review over a three week period for a prize called The Rooster.

I was genuinely excited when I woke up to see who won between my favorite novel of 2011, Jennifer Egan’s brilliant A Visit from the Goon Squad and another of my top-5 novels of the year, Jonathan Franzen’s ubiquitous Freedom. And Visit from the Goon Squad wins! Granted, one of those votes was from one of the central principals in the “Franzenfreude” movement, but still.

The most inspired chapter in Visit from the Goon Squad is made up entirely of Power Point slides, and is available (with audio enhancements!) here.

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