spending endowments in a recession

A friend (at Duke, nonetheless no less) and I were talking about the fact that, in the recession, both our institutions have used their considerable endowments pretty conservatively; my undergraduate college, Swarthmore, has been similar. Essentially they treat the interest coming off the endowment as current income, preserving principal.

The issue, though, is that this makes endowment spending cyclical, basically correlated with income from other sources, such as state funding (at a public university), tuition raises, donations, and even grant money. I imagine that a less risk-averse university could actually claim impressive returns to its endowment by spending counter-cyclically. Certainly these benefits could be intellectual or mission-based, as in the ability to hire faculty for relatively little money because of weak job markets. But I imagine the benefits could be financial as well, in the form of increased alumni donations, potential revenues from discoveries, grant income, and so on. What am I missing? Why does it seem like nobody is seeking to spend endowment money aggressively this way?


Top 10 sociology programs in terms of quality of graduate students, using the primary measure in the NRC (average quantitative GRE score):


The other measure of graduate student quality is percentage of first year students with external fellowships. That top 10:


the scatterplot official* ranking of sociology graduate programs

After seeing the NRC ranking of graduate programs, my first impulse was to simply ignore it.  The process has been a mess–and now the results reflect that mess perfectly.  My second instinct was to write a post encouraging everyone else to ignore it.  Obviously, that’s not going to happen!  It’s so hard to stop myself from responding and pointing out the many flaws and the really bizarre results.  But it won’t be long until everyone else deals with that task–so instead I think what we really need is an alternative.

The NRC study cost millions of dollars and tens-of-thousands of person hours to create.   I want to be cheap and fast–and better than the NRC ranking.  Not way better, not perfect, just better.  So, I give you the Scatterplot Official Ranking of Sociology (SORS), constructed in less than 15 minutes using a very carefully constructed proprietary algorithm (see footnote 2 for details).  You will no doubt find surprises and program positions you’d quibble with–but anyone who compares my results to the “S” rankings of the NRC will immediately declare mine to be superior and more useful.  I submit, therefore, that you will be more than justified in using the SORS in any future program evaluation, discussion about the state of sociology, or program initiative.  Continue reading “the scatterplot official* ranking of sociology graduate programs”

nrc rankings

The NRC rankings appear to have driven me out of blogging retirement. Here are some understandings I have about the rankings for sociology after reading material from the Chronicle and the report’s Appendix. Corrections welcome.

1. Books are not counted in the publications per faculty member figure. At all.
2. Citations to books are not counted in the citations per faculty member figure. At all.
3. Multi-authored publications are counted as 1 publication per each author and 1 citation for each author in the citation count.
4. The average GRE score figure is based on the quantitative GRE only.

Also, if you are wondering about the #1 sociology programs in some key areas:
Most publications per faculty member: University of California-San Francisco
Most citations per faculty member: University of New Hampshire
Average time to Ph.D. for students: Bowling Green State University (3.25 years!)
PhDs with academic jobs: University of Miami
Average GRE score: University of Iowa
Percentage of students completing in 6 years or less: Baylor University
Percentage of new students with external grants: Temple University

two major lessons from today

1. Reputational rankings: maybe not so bad after all.

2. Uncertainty: if one is going to provide multiple sets of rankings and confidence intervals as a way of gesturing toward the uncertainty in the evaluation process, one might also consider, for example, trying to model the uncertainty of how to go about counting books relative to articles, rather than simply counting a book as one article and leaving it at that.

More could be said. Well, I suppose I should also say that, in case anyone looks at the NRC spreadsheet and detail and wonders, Northwestern University does indeed provide “Instruction in Statistics.” And did so in 2006! So I’m not sure how we came to be tallied as not offering that.

ask a scatterbrain: when you just disagree

This, from a fellow junior faculty member at another University:

I’m serving on a committee that has just been asked by upper administration to strategize how we can pursue a new aim they’ve settled on on for the university. Here’s the thing – I don’t agree with the new aim. So, developing a strategy for it isn’t high on my priority list. What can/should a junior faculty member do when serving on a committee that’s asked to do something by the administration that they don’t agree with?

ask a scatterbrain: what are the big questions?

This one comes from a graduate student who shall remain anonymous:

When we say “the big questions” what do we mean? What are the “big questions”?

I was thinking about reorienting my approach to teaching Intro by trying to make it focus on the big questions that sociology engages and how sociology has a unique perspective relative to other disciplines.  In particular, I was thinking about how we always talk about the “sociological imagination” but often don’t give that enough context.  The sociological imagination relative to what?  What are the alternatives?  How does that make it different from other disciplines?  Different from how we might be
accustomed to thinking?

The thing that first excited me about sociology was that it offered an entirely different way to think about the world than what I was accustomed to.  In our modern era of individualism, it seemed like an entirely different paradigm.  So I was thinking about how to convey this basic fact to Intro students and it led me to think that it might be interesting to try to give them a sense of the big questions that sociology engages and how it does so in a distinct way in order to better illustrate to my students how sociology is situated within the larger pursuit of knowledge and has a unique contribution to make.

honoring marty peretz

I have amended this post, noting that those whose names appeared on a letter did NOT agree to have their names listed on it, please see below.

Harvard is working hard to justify honoring Marty Peretz, long time editor of the New Republic. This is because Peretz was taken to task by Nicholas Kristof for asserting two things:

1.) “Frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims.”

2.) “I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment, which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.”

Peretz apologized. But interestingly, only for the second statement. Peretz claims that the first statement is “a statement of fact, not of value.” I don’t completely disagree. It’s a fact that for Peretz, Muslim lives are cheap. In fact, Peretz has a very long history of incredibly racist statements about both Arabs and Muslims. It’s hard for me to believe that if these claims were made about Jews, or Blacks, or Gays, or anyone else, that Harvard would continue to work hard to honor him. Harvard has “expressed concern” over Peretz’s views. But defends them in light of a commitment to free speech. I feel they’re defending them because powerful people like Peretz, and, importantly, they’re raising money. I, for one, object. I signed a petition. I’m not sure that will do anything. But what’s one to do in situations like this? Voice my disgust. Hence the blog post. Harvard’s justification letter, after the break. and a list of those who have been supporting a fund for Peretz,  (including: Al Gore, Amy Gutmann, and other all stars). Continue reading “honoring marty peretz”

ask a scatterbrain: what four words best describe you

My wife is working on analyzing the results of an instrument that included “what four words best describe you?”. So for each questionnaire, there are four free-form words that the subjects (generally, adolescent patients in clinics) put down. They’re looking for a coding schema for categorizing these words–anything come to mind? Any advice?

football flyover

As has become something of a tradition, an F-16 will fly over the UNC football home opener vs. Georgia Tech on Saturday. I hate to sound so fuddy-duddy, but:

  1. Do we really need to reinforce the link between a sp0rting event and militarism; and
  2. How much does it cost, in terms both of money and of natural resources, to fly a supersonic military plane over the campus, both several times as practice today and then during the real thing on Saturday?

frontiers of polling

A commenter on TPM writes about being polled by Rasmussen and how it was “bad practice” because of question ordering and suggestive language.

I’m not sure if I believe this post was actually Rasmussen, though it might have been. But in any case–the question of how to ask questions, how to poll on emotions, and in what order, strikes me as an art more than a science. If you want to know about how emotions figure into voting decisions, maybe this is precisely the right way to ask?

theory, data, totality — quote of the day

I’m indexing our upcoming translation, Group Experiment and Other Writings: The Frankfurt School on Public Opinion. Here’s a favorite for today:

It is impossible to glean a social totality–on which all real individual experience depends–by increasing the quantity of data. It is also impossible to extrapolate a theory from empirical findings in a world in which individual social realities conceal their own essence almost as much as they express it.

(page 11)

canadian sociology new website

I am so excited about the Canadian Sociology Association’s new website that I want to shout it out in all caps. (Don’t worry; I’ll restrain myself.) It is a professionally designed website, with actual information on it! And with images! And a readable font!

And thank goodness, once again, for the Wayback Machine, so that I can show you what the old website looked like. Take a look, and if your eyeballs haven’t melted, then ponder how that could be the website of a national academic professional association not of 1992, but of 2009.

Just over a year ago, the membership voted to increase their own fees to pay for the new website. Good choice, Canada. I am with you.