Author Archives: mike3550

lifecourse of a paper

Working on a paper and proposal that both involved life-course explanations of social phenomena, I realized that my papers have a life-course of their own. I thought I would share:

  • Birth. This is the first glimmer of a new idea. Unfortunately, nature is cruel and mortality at this stage is very high. Some ideas are truly great, but are lost by the time I leave the department/committee/research meeting in which I had their first glimmer. Others were really stillborn: good in principle, impractical in reality. Others needed to be culled for the good of my brood of other, unfinished papers

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mastering sociology

What purpose does a terminal MA in sociology serve and what purpose should a terminal MA in sociology serve?

These questions have come to my mind after spending three years in a department with a terminal masters program (and no Ph.D. program). To partially answer the first question, I can say that there seem to be three kinds of students who enter our program:

  1. Students who want to pursue a Ph.D. program and either don’t have the credentials to be accepted currently or don’t feel like they have the credentials to be accepted;
  2. Students who receive some kind of promotion or pay for holding a Master’s degree; and
  3. Students how liked undergrad and want to continue in school with a vague idea that they want to do non-academic research (e.g., in think-tanks) who might also be, possibly, maybe-in-the-future, considering a Ph.D. program.

For the first group, the terminal MA seems to serve a defined goal. The information to make the decision is "knowable," though I am not sure how many follow solid advice not to enter Ph.D. programs. The second group probably makes the most sense since everything is on the table. The benefits seem clear for those in the second category since one could evaluate what one would pay in tuition or student loans against the expected future return in increased salary.

It is the third group which concerns me.

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don’t tread on my statehood dreams

"Taxation Without Representation" license plate on Presidential Limo

In case you’ve missed the news of of rural Northern Colorado, a number of counties there wish to secede from the state because those darn city slickers in Denver just don’t listen to their concerns. Although the chances are nearly impossible since it would require an amendment to the Colorado constitution and approval of Congress, nothing has deterred them yet.

One of the leaders of the movement, however, Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway made a much more plausible case: admit the new state of “Northern Colorado” along with another state, either Puerto Rico or Washington, D.C. As some of you may or may not know (though I’ve mentioned before), residents of the District of Columbia do not have representation in Congress. In other words, they have taxation without representation.

The idea is pretty clear: admit one Republican-leaning state and one Democratic-leaning state. The action would have precedent: the Missouri Compromise admitted Maine and Missouri together in order to maintain the balance of free and slave states.

I was curious what the addition of D.C. and Northern Colorado would do to state Congressional apportionment if Congress maintained the current 435 seats in the House (the Senate would likely add two Republican Senators and two Democratic Senators, keeping the current balance, though breaking a filibuster would be even slightly harder because 63 votes — or 60.6% of the Senate — would be required rather than the current 60). I wrote a Stata script to implement the “Amazing Apportionment Machine.”
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is open access equal access?

As Jenn and Brayden both write, a high-powered group of sociologists incoporated a new online journal, Sociological Science. Most commenters at orgtheory debate the prospect of Sociological Science succeeding in the near future and Brayden wonders whether this model can displace established journals. I, however, question how much the journal will promote or exacerbate inequality across academic institutions.

The editors tout the “evaluative not developmental” editorial reviews as a main feature of the nascent journal. One month review times and no R&Rs. It sounds great, after all I frequently get frustrated with the fact that reviewers do not recognize the my brilliant ideas, eloquent prose, and innovative statistical techniques. Who likes being forced to explain regression models to reviewers or to be asked by an editor to add three literatures and simultaneously cut 3,000 words?

At the same time, editorial focus on “evaluative” rather than “developmental” reviews implicitly assumes that authors can equally access venues to support the development of their work. I do not think that this is true.

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flawed science moves good science

I was fortunate to attend a talk by an economist visiting our campus last week and, during lunch, she mentioned the embarrassment that the Reinhart and Rogoff scandal caused the economics profession, including being flogged by Stephen Colbert. I then explained the embarrassment in our fair discipline, the Regnerus affair, of which she had not heard (which, itself, made me very happy). I realize that many might be losing an appetite for this topic, but I think that juxtaposing these two episodes shows some fairly sharp contrasts and lessons for academic work more generally.

Both, I believe, point to fundamental problems in our publication systems. Equally important, however, I submit that sociology’s handling of the Regnerus affair actually conveys a relatively healthy response that, through the subsequent devastating critiques, produced important knowledge. I also submit that the publication of Regnerus’s paper led to this outcome far quickly than what happened in response to the Reinhart and Rogoff scandal.

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math: electoral style

I got in the dangerous and time-consuming game of playing Electoral College math. It was highly illuminating with a week left before the election (and lots of time available thanks to Sandy). Here are the scenarios that I see using the great tool available at www.270towin.com.

First, some preliminaries. I started with 270towin’s battleground states, but allocated Michigan (16 electoral votes), Pennsylvania (20 EV), and Wisconsin (10 EV) to President Obama and allocated Florida (29 EV) and North Carolina (15 EV) to Governor Romney. Assuming this allocation, President Obama starts with 247 electoral votes compared to Governor Romney’s 235. This leaves six states and 56 electoral votes up for grabs: Colorado (9 EV), Iowa (6 EV), Ohio (18 EV), Nevada (6 EV), New Hampshire (4 EV), and Virginia (13 EV). Continue reading

enduring neighborhood

For those of you who, like me, were first introduced to the wonders of neighborhood life because Mister Rogers was kind enough to share his, this is for you:*

As usual, couldn’t have said it better myself.

* (And my apologies to those parents, who like mine, couldn’t stand the man after watching him twice a day for years on end.)

structure and agency of graduate union activism

In the conversation about the Teaching Assistants’ Association at Madison not endorsing Tom Barrett in Wisconsin’s recall election, Jeremy wrote:

Mike: Given your experience, I would love to see a post from you on the individual/collective benefits versus time costs of graduate student unions. When I started at Madison, I was enthusiastic to get a faculty job somewhere where students were unionized, but left feeling much more ambivalent about it. Most of that shift followed from seeing the apparent costs to students in terms of time and distraction much more clearly than the benefits.

To be honest, I have thought about writing a post on this topic for a long time. Given strong negative feelings toward graduate employee unions among some faculty, I was reluctant to discuss the matter lest the post be connected to my real identity. But, no longer will I let my unruly side be sublimated by unwarranted caution so here I go…

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tea worthy

The Tea Party movement claims the mantle of Revolutionary forefathers to fight for liberty against the despotism of a distant ruler. They take their name from the Boston Tea Partiers who protested Britain’s taxation of Americans without representation in Parliament; a Parliament whose members nevertheless asserted power over the colonies “…in all cases whatsoever”.

If this is the mantle they wish to claim, I have a fight worthy of these modern-day Samuel Adamses: revolt against the despotism that subjects women in Washington, D.C. to laws created by an Arizonian.

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will we see a post-campus america?

Last week, Megan McArdle envisioned a “post-campus America“. Not an unreasonable vision given the advantages of online schools and rising tuition. The larger context of her comments comes from the fact that MIT now offers online certifications. She comes up with 12 specific claims of events she believes will transpire in the context of increased productivity of higher education. Overall, I think that she identifies appropriate questions but I think that she comes to the wrong conclusion about some. She also assumes colleges and universities to be monolithic rather than substantially varied, which carries important implications for some of her conclusions. I address each below (claims directly quoted) and am interested in what others think.
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kitty shepherding

We’ve all heard that getting faculty to do anything is akin to herding cats. This post describes the process of doing so in a way that literally made me cackle out loud.

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.

tally’s corner, then and now

The New Deal Carry-out shop is on a corner in downtown Washingon, D.C. It would be within walking distance of the White House, the Smithsonian Institution, and other major public buildings over the nation’s capital, if anyone cared to walk there, but no one ever does. Across the street from the Carry-out is a liquor store. The other two corners of the intersection are occupied by a dry cleaning and shoe repair store and a wholesale plumbing supplies showroom and warehouse.

So begins Elliot Liebow’s famous description of Tally’s Corner. Now — thanks to Liebow’s wife — we now know from where he wrote that description: 11th and M Streets in NW. This was revealed by Washington Post reporter and columnist John Kelly this week. The column includes a brief bio of Liebow and as well as a short description of the book and its importance.

This book is a standard in any class on urban sociology, and likely any methods class on ethnography. There are lessons embedded in just the introductory chapter that are still useful today. He sought to study black men in poverty because so much had been written about poor women and children because “[a]t the purely practical level, the lower-class Negro man is neglected from a research point of view simply because he is more difficult to reach than women, youths, and children” (p. 3). He looked to describe the everyday lives of his informants as “fathers, husbands, lovers, breadwinners,” which simultaneously highlighted their individual worth (and, sometimes, shortcomings) while showing how their lives were structured by the lack of opportunities available to them. This book, more than almost any other, exemplifies what can be learned by setting out to deeply describe the context in which people live their everyday lives.

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hitting close to home from 925 miles away

As I watch the protests from Madison (and get updates from our very own on-the-ground correspondent), I am amazed at the resolution and determination of the protestors. In no small part because watching what is happening in Madison affects good friends dearly and gives the rest of us pause to think about what kind of country we want to live in.

With deference to President Obama, this isn’t an “assault on unions;” this is an assault on the fundamental idea of equality in our country.

Unions are the medium through which equality is accomplished, not the end in themselves. I don’t support unions because they are unions; I support unions because they are one of the few institutions in this country that create a playing field that is anything close to level. This protest hits particularly close to home for me. I include among my friends members, leaders, and staff at TAA, as well as their sister union from UW-Milwaukee the MGAA. There are not two more capable and energetic locals.

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not sure she gets it

“I’m the least racist of anyone. Some of my greatest friends are black.”

That is what Tennessee state rep Terri Lynn Weaver said after news broke that she posted a picture of her Halloween costume on Facebook: her in black face with the caption “Aunt Jemima, you is so sweet.” Not sure what definition of racist she is using, but I’m pretty sure that under any definition I am familiar with she would not rank near the bottom. Who is to blame for this brouhaha? You guessed it, the Democrats!

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