hoop dreams

What the eagerness of college presidents to have Div I athletics has wrought: The following basketball teams comprise an actual, current college basketball conference (the Great West): Chicago State University, Houston Baptist “University”, New Jersey Institute of Technology, University of North Dakota, University of South Dakota, University of Texas-Pan American, Utah Valley University.

class and the tax-cut debate

One of the (many) things that’s frustrating about the current debate over extending the Bush tax cuts is the meme that, well, 250 grand just isn’t what it used to be. Why, in some places it’s just enough to make ends meet! Media Matters carries an excellent take-down of an LA Times fluff story that makes that point. Useful, perhaps, as part of a class exercise on inequality in the US.

Update: Philip Cohen has an excellent breakdown of family budgets at median and “wealthy” points here.

adventures in amman

I’m in Amman, Jordan. I’m here to teach social science methodology to Jordanian civil servants. It’s part of a “Global Centers” project of Columbia’s. I have some mixed feelings about these centers, but that’s for another post. So far, the course has been really fascinating, and rewarding. It’s quite an experience to talk to policy makers and bureaucrats about how to best evaluate evidence/social programs/etc.

I’m hoping they’re learning something, but I’ve learned a tremendous amount more from them. And being in Jordan, I’ve also experienced just how wrong-headed my assumptions about this area of the world can be. Some examples:

Continue reading “adventures in amman”

who are our customers?

It is becoming more and more common to hear about the “customers” of higher education. I will go on record, unsurprisingly, as saying that I do not like this language. However, since it is becoming so common, I think it’s worth reflecting too on who these customers are, and also what the product is that they’re purchasing. This is both philosophically important and practically so with respect to grade inflation, one of my ongoing concerns.

The presumption when this is raised is often that the customers are the students in the room. Hence we are to deliver a satisfactory product to those students who have registered for our classes. And, when it comes to grading, a “satisfactory product” often ends up meaning an A. This becomes all the more so when the syllabus is conceptualized as a contract between professor and student, such that adequate completion earns the full payment, the A. I far prefer adequacy to earn a B- or C, and exceeding adequacy to earn grades higher than that.

But I digress. Let me suggest that our customer is actually The Public — not its individual components, not the student body as a whole, not the alumni and donors, not the taxpayers, certainly not whichever students happened to register for a given course. For public and private universities alike, tuition dollars cover only a fraction of the cost of education, and sometimes (as at UNC) a very small fraction. But more importantly, virtually every university has a public mission and claims institutional, financial, and moral responsibility for that mission. So as we create, communicate, and disseminate knowledge, we should be thinking about the collective public as our customer, not about the students. In many cases we may serve our customer better by being more demanding and less accommodating to the students.

Finally, let me point out that even if you reject my case above, what we are supposed to be “selling” is education and knowledge — not grades or credentials. So serving the students appropriately often involves being less accommodating than we sometimes are!

asa audit information

Neal Caren points out to me that ASA does have a page called “Audit of Financial Records”. There isn’t a link to the page on the ASA site, as far as I can tell. And the last year it has was 2007. That appears to say that publications brought in about 3 million and cost about 1.1-1.2 million in 2007, for a surplus of 1.8-1.9 million. Continue reading “asa audit information”

asa tax returns

OK, so, within minutes of my previous post, a reader* sent me ASA’s 2008 Form 990 tax return. Nonprofit tax returns are apparently a matter of public record and all you have to do is register at Guidestar.com and start searching.

Want to compare the 2008 sociology return to the returns for economics, political science, or anthropology? Well, follow those links. Skimming them, I thought the most interesting thing is the very modest relationship between the size of the different disciplines faculty-wise (economics > political science > sociology > anthropology) and how much their professional organizations take in and spend.

In terms of the finances of the journals, though, my correspondent pointed out that it looks like in 2008 the journals had $3 million in revenue (page 2) and $1.6 million in expenses (page 9), so, if that’s correct, the ASA journals appear to have come out about $1.4 million ahead.

UPDATE: Looks from page 9 like ASA made $85K from “mailing list rentals.” ASA has about 14K members, so that works out to better than $6/member name. I had no idea our names were so valuable.

* I wasn’t sure if you wanted credit or to remain anonymous.


OK, so, partly due to my bygone days as an active and charming blogger, I am an elected member of the ASA publications committee. We meet twice a year: once at the ASA meetings, and then we met last weekend in Washington, DC. It’s a big meeting: 6 members, the president, secretary/treasurer, 8 editors, 2 representatives from Sage, and 3 staff members from the ASA executive office.

Anyway, one of the things I’ve learned being part of the publications committee is how closely held any financial information by ASA is. Continue reading “socwikileaks?”

you don’t even want to think about what they do to contractions

Dear Students,

I realize that we’re approaching the end of the semester and I, like all of you, am very tired. Indeed, I feel like a dehydrated man crawling painfully through a desert lusting after the cool, refreshing waters of yon oasis. Granted, yon oasis is, in my case, a mirage since the end of the semester is always punctuated by a hurricane of grading, but I digress. My point is that I understand and, indeed, sympathize with your exhaustion. All that having been said, there is a small matter that we really need to discuss- a problem that I have noticed several times over the course of the semester. A problem that I have actually explicitly addressed with the class as a whole and with several of the more egregious offenders in person. That problem is simply this:

The words that you use to describe the reasoning process? Yeah- they do not mean what you think that they do.
Continue reading “you don’t even want to think about what they do to contractions”