religious observance policy limitations

My campus’s religious observance policy is pretty good, although vague around the edges. First, we are urged to avoid scheduling mandatory exercises on days when “significant numbers of student would be impacted.” In practice, this means try to avoid Passover, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana; the updated version of the policy also mentions Eid al-Adha although, candidly even avoidance of Jewish holidays for exams is hit or miss and there is very little public attend to Eid on this campus.

Second, and this is the part I want to both praise and comment on, we are to provide a non-punitive alternative for any student who says they have a religious conflict with a particular date. There are reasonable constraints on this: the student has to tell the instructor the relevant date(s) within the first two weeks of class (not the night before an exam), and there can be “reasonable limits” on the total number of days requested. The policy explicitly says that “students’ sincerely held religious beliefs shall be reasonably accommodated with respect to scheduling all examinations and other academic requirements” and that “A student’s claim of religious conflict, which may include travel time, should be accepted at face value” because “there is no practical, dignified, and legal means to assess the validity of individual claims.”  Pretty good.

So where are the problems? Continue reading “religious observance policy limitations”

you might want to read your school’s tenure policy

There has been a great deal of publicity about the change in the tenure policy at the University of Wisconsin. It is a big change, but what very few people have recognized is that the nature of the change is moving Wisconsin from the best tenure policy in the nation to a tenure policy that is comparable to or slightly better than most other public universities and substantially better than most private universities. All universities reserve the right to lay off tenured faculty in financial emergencies and nearly all reserve the right to lay off tenured faculty when they close departments for “programmatic reasons.” Typical language states that the university should try to find a position for the person in another unit for which they are qualified, but does not generally guarantee that such a position will be found. Public schools generally have more steps through which they must go before closing departments and laying off tenured faculty; private schools typically say deans can just do it if they want to. Typically you have to work hard to actually find your campus’s tenure policy but you might want to go look. We have one faculty member who flamboyantly resigned saying “tenure is dead,” but the actual tenure policy at the school that person is moving to looks very similar to the new policy at Wisconsin.

open letter to students of color

NOTE: I did not write this letter. I am posting it here as a model for what support looks like and because some people will find it helpful to have it in a place they can link to. For those of you not at Wisconsin, the context is that campus police entered an Afro-American Studies class and removed a student charged with putting up anti-racist spray-painted graffiti around campus, then took him downtown and filed criminal charges against him, thereby publicizing his name. This was in the context of a wave of hate and bias incidents on the campus; students in these cases faced campus misconduct charges, not criminal charges. Tony Robinson was a young biracial man shot last year by a police officer in a Madison neighborhood near campus.

18 April 2016

An Open Letter to the Students of Color of the University of Wisconsin-Madison

            From The Faculty and Staff of the Department of Afro-American Studies

The faculty and staff of the Department of Afro-American Studies is thinking about you and keeping you in our hearts at this time of extreme stress and tension.  Your anger is justified, your fear understandable.  The disruption of Professor Almiron’s class, and the arrest of your fellow student, King Shabazz, while important in itself, is only the most recent in a series of events that has been steadily escalating in recent months and weeks.  What so many of you are experiencing isn’t a sign of individual weakness.  It’s a version of post-traumatic stress syndrome, a mental health crisis as serious as those following campus shootings or natural disasters. We admire the way many of you are holding up but we understand what a strain this represents.

In recognition of that fact, we call on faculty across the campus to respond to the crisis in a spirit of care and generosity as we near the end of the semester.  Further, we ask the administration to affirm that call, as well as to offer public assurances that these events will not interfere with King’s plans to graduate at the end of the semester.  Further, we ask that emergency mental health support be made available to all students affected by recent events.

The most important part of our message to you is simple: do your best to keep your eyes on the prize, and know that we’re there to support you as you walk a difficult path.  We know you’re feeling torn between the demands of your studies and your desire to take an active role in responding to what’s happening.  Let some of the burden be shifted to our shoulders.  Continue reading “open letter to students of color”

graduate student associations

Although it has had a teaching assistant’s union since the 1970s, my department has just formed a Sociology Graduate Students Association in the past two years. They are interested in learning about the structure and functions of graduate student associations at other programs.Is there a sociology graduate student association on your campus? What does it do? How is it structured?

Our students would also like to identify graduate students at other institutions who could tell them about the how the graduate student association works in your department. I think this is especially so if you believe it works well. If you would be a good contact or can suggest one, drop a comment and I’ll email you for more information. I can see your email address if you comment.

guilt and entitlement

I teach an “ethnic studies” course so I’m always in interaction with students about how to think about legacies of the past as the impact the present. I had a new thought this year in responding to the standard white student comment that goes “my ancestors weren’t here when genocide/slavery happened, so why should I feel responsible/guilty?” I asked the students: so who is more entitled to possess land or privilege in the US today, whites who are descended from the white people who participated in the genocide [slavery] or the whites who are benefiting from that past even though their ancestors did not participate? The students had no easy answer (of course), but it did seem to me to move the conversation in a new direction. Because maybe the people who went to the trouble to have blood on their hands in some way are more entitled* than those who just reaped the benefits of White supremacy without paying its material and moral costs.

I also called their attention to the way in which White Americans typically view themselves as the spiritual/national descendants of the Pilgrims and as inheritors of the national [White] dream, even when, in fact, their ancestors arrived after 1880. If you are going to claim the Pilgrims, you have to claim the whole package of Manifest Destiny and the White nation, seems to me.

* Since you don’t know me, I’d better make it clear that I’m trying to push a conversation here. I’m not actually arguing that White supremacists ought to be entitled if they committed murder, I’m trying to challenge the idea that there is no moral weight to inheriting and benefiting from a system created by past crimes. And I’m not comparing Whites to indigenous people or Afro-descent people here, either, but different groups of Whites to each other.

tech support?

Jeremy used to maintain the look of this blog. Is there anybody with admin privileges who can figure out why the format went wonky and fix it? I think this involves knowing things about WordPress. If you know how to fix it but don’t have admin privileges, let me know and I can fix your permissions.

online student evaluations?

The topic here is online vs. paper evaluations of course by students. I’m a department chair. The staff person who handles our paper evaluations (mandatory for instructors to administer) says we’d save a lot of labor with online evaluations, agrees that the problem with online evaluations is low response rates, and asks whether this could be solved by not releasing a student’s grade until they have done the evaluation. What is the experience on other campuses? What are response rates to online evaluations? Are there any systems in place to require that students evaluate? NOTE: Students can turn in a blank evaluation form or refuse to fill it out, and the staff member proposes that the student’s right not to respond could be coupled with mandatory evaluation by having the first question be “I prefer not to answer” which would get credit for doing the evaluation. What are your campus’s policies?