Author Archives: olderwoman

I’m a sociology professor but not only a sociology professor. It isn’t hard to figure out my real name if you want to, but I keep it out of this blog because I don’t want my name associated with it in a Google search. Although I never write anything in a public forum like a blog that I’d be ashamed to have associated with my name (and you shouldn’t either!), it is illegal for me to use my position as a public employee to advance my religious or political views, and the pseudonym helps to preserve the distinction between my public and private identities. The pseudonym also helps to protect the people I may write about in describing public or semi-public events I’ve been involved with.

rapid response teaching

A young unarmed Black man was shot by a White police officer in Madison a week and a half ago (not that common an event here) and there have been a lot of protests and a lot of discussion here about this.We got feedback from our TAs that they wanted more support for dealing with these kinds of emotion-laden issues in the classroom. Partly just acknowledgement that many of them, as well as many of the students, had personal ties to the young man who was killed, or personal reasons to feel close to the matter. And partly advice and teaching resources for being ready to deal with both the immediate issue and the broader sociological context in class. I discussed the event and the protests and the broader context it in my class because it was relevant to the class topic and because I already knew a lot of the relevant background knowledge, but I did not do anything to share the information I had with anyone else. There was some agreement in our departmental discussion about a need for a system of rapid deployment of information from those instructors  with knowledge to those instructors who want knowledge (or who maybe need the knowledge whether they want it or not) about current events they may want to address in their classes. Or maybe the proactive accumulation of background information about issues that are likely to become “hot” that can be quickly accessed? Are there departments that have systems for this? We were tossing out ideas of using the discussion board features of desire2learn or a private blog.

Other important points from the discussion: Continue reading

name ghost

One way or another it is looking like it will cost me several hundred dollars and significant aggravation to deal with the fallout of US patriarchy. Back when I was married in 1970, the women’s movement was just kicking in and a summer employer insisted that they could not (would not) pay me unless I signed a form changing to my married name on my social security record. I never got a new card, however, and since that time, the only name I’ve used is my birth name.To do this, in the 1970s I had several times to verbally lie to self-appointed local government monitors of women’s names (marital status was never a question on the written document one was signing) who were insisting that married women must use their husband’s surnames on things like drivers licenses and employment records. Sometimes the courts upheld the patriarchists, sometimes the women. All this dust gradually settled around 1980 and since then married women have been left alone and allowed to use birth names in peace.(All you young-‘uns who are going about changing names willy-nilly for trivial reasons like marriage just make us older women sigh, given all the grief we incurred to avoid it.)

Because many people do change names at marriage, it is very easy to do so. You just drop by your local identity office with marriage papers and poof your name changes. This does not apply, however, if you are caught in the warp of the 1970s. If the SSA persuades itself that the name they have for you is your “legal name,” you must prove that there has been a legal name change. If you are a married women using your birth name you do not, of course, have such a court order, because you never changed your name. You are just dealing with the fallout of strong arm patriarchal bullying from the 1970s that gives many married women from that era an inconsistent set of names.

SSA knows who I am. I have a comprehensive identity record. They know my birth name, they can see my lifetime payroll records, they have my marriage certificate. They know what happened. There is no dispute about the facts. But they claim to be incapable of correcting their records to match reality without a court order. They say this is part of the heightened scrutiny on identity with e-verify. There are activists pointing out that this system disproportionately affects women. My lawyer says I should not have to pay her to do this for me, and I’m going to try one  more time on my own before handing it over to her.

I’m pretty mad but if I have to I can pay the money to get this straightened out. If I have to, I’ll get the court order. But as my friends say, “what are poor women supposed to do?”


This essay is about the phenomenon often called mansplaining (with its variant whitesplaining). It is prompted a recent 90 minute episode of what felt to me like mansplaining. Any use of the term mansplaining or whitesplaining in mixed company typically evokes complaints that the term itself is sexist/racist. Even our own scatterplot had a minor eruption of this conflict when mansplain was used to describe something women had said to a man  Of course both mansplaining and whitesplaining are very common special cases of the more general privilegesplaining or, better, just splaining. The term splaining has not been applied to class, or to student vs. professor status, or other hierarchies, but it could and should be. Let’s begin by saying that I am often guilty of splaining, at least in the basic sense of telling someone else something they already know or of speaking with confidence about something that is later revealed to be wrong. In fact, when I told my spouse what I was thinking about, he said: “well, you know, you do that.” As if I didn’t know that. This essay is thus not about my own virtue and others’ vice, but about unpacking the idea of splaining, examining its sources and making distinctions. And then explaining why we don’t stay neutral about it. Continue reading

fundraising to digitize ASA journal archives

There are 588 boxes of materials from the ASA’s journals (American Sociological Review, Contemporary Sociology, Contexts, the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, Social Psychological Quarterly, Sociological Methodology, Sociological Theory, Sociology of Education, and Teaching Sociology) that have been housed at Penn State that are now slated to be shredded and destroyed unread unless funds can be raised to digitize them first. As concerned scholars say: “These unique documents cover an era of major change in the intellectual, organizational, and social-demographic composition of the discipline of sociology. Sociologists in a variety of fields have recently attested to the significance of the data contained in these records for studying the development of all subfields of the discipline, as well as for research in the areas of science/knowledge, social networks, race/gender/class, higher education, the history of sociology, sociological theory, political sociology, and public sociology.”

After much acrimonious debate at ASA Council about whether on principle the records should ever be released due to tradeoffs between historical value and legal/ethical concerns about privacy & confidentiality (the archive includes draft MSS later revised, confidential reviews, and internal memos), as well as debates about the cost of the archiving, the compromise achieved at ASA was to allow concerned parties to do a fundraising campaign to amass the estimated $120,000 it will cost to digitize the archives. As you doubtless know if you are on ASA mailing lists, this fundraising campaign is underway. You can learn about it and click a donate now button at ASA has about 14,000 members, making the per capita cost about $10/member, although of course many members are students or underemployed. Small contributions are welcome and larger contributors are invited to donate $200 to “adopt a box.”

The ASA has vowed to shred all documents whose digitization has not been paid for by June 15, 2015.

Edit: There was an extensive orgtheory  discussion of this last Februrary, where we debated the confidentiality concerns and the historical value of these archives, but could not find that discussion in a Google search. Please drop a comment if you can locate these substantive debates.

(I couldn’t find it in the scatterplot archives because that isn’t where it is!)



big data, big cities datathon august 15 — sign up this week

The day before ASA begins, August 15, three graduate students, Laura Nelson, Laura Norén, and my advisee Alex Hanna, are hosting a pre-ASA datathon at the D-Lab in Berkeley. From the website: we are holding a datathon to examine contemporary urban issues – especially around housing – with municipal data from cities including San Francisco, New York, Seattle, Boston, Austin, and Chicago.

The hacking itself begins on the 15th, with presentations and judging at the Hilton on the 16th. They are expecting a good mix of participants from both academia and the private sector, and will have a mix of judges from academia, industry, and government. Head to the website for more details on the schedule and how to sign up.

asa responded to calendar request!

We still owe thanks to Kieran for his efforts, but I am also happy to report that as of today a saved schedule in “my schedule” on has the option to save the schedule as a calendar. It worked fine when I tested it with Google calendar.

download ASA schedule to calendar?

The room assignments have just appeared in the ASA’s calendar and show up in your personal schedule now. However, I don’t see any option as there were in past years to download this as a calendar file for import into Outlook or Google. Also the personal schedule I saved on the web interface does not seem to show up on the phone app after a login. Does anybody know how to do either of these?

FYI here’s a link to what worked in 2012:  But the interface has changed since then.

you think applying for academic jobs is hard?

Since retiring, my spouse has been volunteering at the “job club,” helping low income people apply for jobs. Applicants for low-wage jobs need to apply on line, and many low-wage workers neither own computers nor have much experience using them. Plus they are often unfamiliar with the various verbal hoops applicants have to go through. One of the big ones are banks of attitude questions. Yesterday he spent a couple of hours with a woman applying to work as a baker in a donut franchise, not the chef who thinks up recipes, someone who just does the work of cooking and frosting. She had to respond to 300 Likert items, 25 a page for 12 pages (!) with items like these

  • It is important to know what my coworkers think.
  • It is important to know what my coworkers feel.
  • I can easily imagine what my coworkers feel.
  • It is important to my life that the company do well.
  • Sometimes you have to take a risk to solve a problem for the company.
  • You have to know all possible solutions before picking one.
  • My coworkers say I’m cooperative.
  • My coworkers say I’m obedient.

Other items, he says, are convoluted sentence structures that even he finds difficult to parse to figure out what the positive/negative ends of the scale are. After two hours, they had to quit because the room needed to be used by someone else, and they had only gotten through five pages of the questions. The 300 is the worst so far, but this kind of thing is common in the low wage world. Another time he was working with a mentally disabled man trying to get a job as a dishwasher who had to work through 150 such questions. This is not what you do after you’ve passed the screening and are being interviewed. This is what you have to do just to enter the screening process. My daughter the labor activist says they are trying to screen out not only thieves but activists. I’m sure she’s right, and also pretty confident that these question banks are produced by consultants who don’t necessarily think through what it means to have to spend five hours applying for a $9/hour job on a computer in a public place. Or maybe they do, and that’s part of the test?

I don’t mean with my title to belittle the stresses of being on the academic job market. It is a scary world out there, and the application process is time-consuming and stressful for everyone. But I think we have not stooped this low. Yet, anyway.

html-excel bleg

Techo-nerds, can you help? A student of mine downloaded about thousand spreadsheets from a public site using the “Excel file” option that saved themselves as .xls files and will open in Excel but are REALLY HTML files and, as such, cannot be imported or even parsed by Stata. Any ideas for automating the file translation? We estimate that opening each file in Excel and saving it as an Excel file at 30 seconds each will take 35 hours. Hoping for a programming solution.

My university’s class rosters ALSO download with .xls extensions but are really html files. Hmmm.

Edit: I think I can crack this. I’ve learned that I can read each file into Stata as lines of text this way:

import delimited “census_Tract101.xls”, delimiter(“^”) varnames(nonames) clear

from there, I’m pretty sure I can fairly easily extract the information needed with string functions, as all the files have identical formats. This may be more elegantly done in R or a programming langauge, but I think I can do it in Stata faster. We’ll see. Thanks for the fast responses.

Edit #2: That did it. My Stata-fu is strong and once I could get each file into Stata as a long string per row, I was good to go as regards writing the code to parse each file inside loops and combine all them into one big file. If you happen to want clues on how to do this kind of arcane task, let me know.



coauthoring norms 1: assisting and junior authoring

I hope it will not disrupt the statistical discussions launched by Jeremy to launch a new line of discussion. My goal is to improve the culture of publication and coauthoring in my department. Although some of our students do great on this, others languish, and many of our students complain that they do not get enough mentoring about publishing. I have identified as one problem that many faculty consider it “exploitative” to involve students in their research if they are not being paid. Another problem is wide variation in opinions about the level of involvement that merits a coauthorship. What I want to do is to develop a set of normative guidelines for apprentice-like experiences that do not involve payment, as well as guidelines for those that do. I am working up a draft of this and would appreciate comments and reports on good and bad experiences and practices in other programs. So here is my draft. Comments, please. Continue reading

can we get a sociology job application site supported?

We have to do something about the job application issue in sociology. Background: My department has been encouraging our students to use Interfolio, but I was shocked last fall to discover that the evolving technology of on-line application systems has created chaos, and that some of our students were paying a great deal of extra money to have their reference letters delivered by Interfolio because nearly all applications now are on-line, but in a hodge-podge of different systems. The result is either extra work or expense for everyone involved. Some professions have consolidated their applications. All math applications go through , powered by AcademicJobsOnLine. All economics jobs go through , using a system created by a team of volunteers.  The Modern Language Association works with Interfolio to provide dossier services and application management services for advertisers, with a maximum fee of $6 for sending a MLA-member dossier to a non-advertising employer.

I’m in touch with the people who run the Economics profession job application site. This is a one-stop site where people applying for economics jobs can put their dossiers up once, letter writers can upload confidential letters to be included with dossiers, and institutions trying to hire economists can download dossiers. It is backed by all the associations that economists join. I asked them what would be involved in cloning the dossier system for sociology. They said the marginal costs would be low. This is a non-profit group of academics that is willing to work with sociology if there are enough of us to get buy-in. The idea would be to go the direction of economics, math, and other fields that have one standardized on-line portal for applications. What do you think? Is this worth working for? Continue reading

gradebook rant

I use what seems to me to be a very logical grading system. I grade papers on a letter grade scale and then calculate grades as a weighted average of these letter grades. Say there are three papers weighted 25%, 25% and 50% that got BC, B, and A respectively. The grade would be 2.5*.25 + 3*.25 + 4*.5 = 3.375, a grade I would then interpret as a low AB. Clear, logical, fair.But as far as I can tell, the course software cannot handle this kind of grading. It assumes that everything is percentages or points. So I cannot use it as an online gradebook. And I have had over the years a large fraction of TAs who cannot quite understand the logic grading papers with (gasp!) grades. To me this seems only logical. Ultimately we will give letter grades, why not set the standards for the grades and grade that way from the beginning? But, instead, they set up their own 10-point or 100-point schemes for grading papers, and then I have to ask them, well, so how does this translate into grades?

For things like tests or homeworks that are more point-like, I use linear equations to transform the points to the 4-point range and put those into the grade calculations in the same way. This is a little more outre and would not have been possible back in the days of paper gradebooks, but after all, you have to take algebra BEFORE you get to college, and we have had computers with spreadsheet programs readily available on college campuses now since the mid-1980s.

So I ask you, why is my university still assuming that everything will be calculated on a percentage basis and then curved to grades? For that matter, why are most of you just blindly assuming that everything should be done in percentages even though virtually every school in the US reports grades on a 4-point letter grade scale? There are a lot of reasons why the percentage-point system has problematic properties, but even if you have a good reason to like it, is it really that hard to understand why I’d like my system, or understand why I prefer it? Is it really that crazy to expect that to be an option in campus course software?

sociology elevator talk

We met with our board of visitors (generally sociology majors who are now successful business people with a sprinkle of academics) and in talking about developing internships for sociology majors it was said that we need a paragraph blurb for what undergraduate sociology majors bring to a job. Employers tend to think of business or maybe economics and have little idea (unless they were sociology majors themselves) what you learn in sociology. We quickly agreed that a lot of it is what any good liberal arts major would bring. But as we talked more, it got more interesting and insightful about some of the distinctive things people learn in a sociology major, although we are still working on the concise elevator version. Here are some of the points. Continue reading

empirical political sociology

Hi, Scatterplotters. I’ve got an inquiry from a social movements fellow traveler who has been assigned to teach political sociology after a long hiatus. She is dismayed to find that political sociology in sociology seems to have become entirely theoretical. She says: “I have been through most of the texts advertised on Amazon and even looked through many of the syllabi at the ASA Teaching page. I’m really shocked. The texts seem to be primarily about theoretical hair splitting with  more theory, and more theory… Doesn’t anyone look at the political world around us? Scary tho it is. I have been almost tempted to use a Marxist text, but it is so very ideological that I probably can’t bring myself to use it. Please send advice. Above all, the name of a good text.”

So I can’t help with this. Can you? She wants to be able to talk about things like party polarization, welfare policy, voting patterns, public opinion, civic participation, etc. I know sociologists do empirical work on these topics, although a lot of the research is in political science rather than sociology. But pulling an undergrad course together from a review of published literature is pretty daunting? Does anybody know of a course in political sociology with a strong empirical bent that could be used as a starting point? Or a text? Either in sociology or political science? Keep in mind we are talking a course for undergraduates at a non-elite school, not your graduate seminar.

I just started to wonder whether there are enough relevant Contexts articles to be the backbone of a course. I’ll suggest that to her. In the meantime, if you have suggestions, post them here. If you have something you could email me, just drop a comment. I can get your email address off the comment as an administrator even though your email address will not appear in the comment itself.


asking for an appointment

One of my pet peeves is an email that says: “Would you be available for an appointment some time?” but does not give information about when that person is available. The answer to such a request is rarely “No.” This is really an opening gambit for and exchange that will involve finding a time to meet. I would prefer if the opening email asking for the appointment also indicates the blocks of time the sender is likely to be available as I feel I’ll end up spending a lot less time on the scheduling exchange if the asker goes first in listing the possible times they are available. I’ve told students this, and they tell me that it seems presumptuous in sending the initial email to presume that you will agree to meet with them and offer times and that is why they start with what seems like the most humble request. (Although most do comply when they figure out that is how I prefer to operate.)

What do the rest of you think? Am I wrong to want people to list their schedules in the first ask? Or are the students right that seeming to presuppose a yes answer may rub people the wrong way? Are there professors who do in fact take offense if a student presupposes that the request for an appointment will lead to a scheduling negotiation?


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