family, life – update

Thanks for all the kind responses to my post about my mother’s infirmity. She is doing somewhat better and still hopes to improve more.  She does not want to make drastic changes in her life (like acquiring a permanent housemate-helper) until she figures out what her long term prospects are.  It looks like a good situation may be developing, at least for the short run.  My mother’s neighbor actually did this kind of care on a free lance basis in her previous community and is hoping to build a clientele in her new area.  She and her husband have repeatedly offered to do things for my mother for free, as good neighbors, but she is also happy to be paid to come by a couple of times a day to do the relatively easy jobs as well as the more challenging jobs, such as assisting with showers.  Because she lives next door, she does not need to insist on minimum shifts of four hours, as the services do, and she takes the whole wage herself, instead of splitting it with a management firm, so the cost per hour to my mother is lower and the pay to the caregiver herself is higher.  They have said all along that they were willing to be called in the middle of the night if needed.  My sister is also talking to another person, recently retired, about being a backup person and someone else to come out for a few hours a week for companionship and to help with errands and small chores. This option was in the air when I was there, but the neighbor was sick and so staying away to avoid infecting my mother.  Caregiver illness is one of the reasons there has to be more than one person in the system.  There are liability insurance, taxes and other issues still to be checked into.  But it’s looking like things might work out.

family, life

Real life is like a Kurt Vonnegut novel. You know, you are going along living your life, and suddenly you get popped over into another life. I’m out in California, spending the week with my mother, who in February found herself invalid, on oxygen and very weak, needing a walker to get around the house. She has pulmonary fibrosis and the prognosis is unclear. She was hit with an infection that laid her low, and she might be able to get back to relative independence. And she might not. A year ago she was still taking several international trips a year, and six months ago she was still running around and taking domestic trips. For me, it’s being transported from the world where I am way behind in my writing, have papers to grade and still don’t have the taxes done to another place where there isn’t really that much to do, just hang out and be ready to offer occasional assistance.

Continue reading “family, life”

advice for new assistant professors

As I’m in an advice-giving mood, I thought I’d post here something I wrote quite a few years ago.  This began as a lunch conversation with a departing grad student (who is now a dean) who asked me if I had any advice for her as she took her first job as an assistant professor.  I wrote it down later and it evolved over a few years.   I’ve gotten feedback from quite a few people that this was helpful, and some of you will doubtless recognize it.

1) Don’t take anything personally, especially not at first. People will probably treat you as insignificant, not because they think ill of you, but because they are socially inept. Most of us are comfortable with the people we already know, and are not good at being friendly to new people. The old timers ought to go out of their way to be friendly and inclusive to someone new (you) but they probably will not, and you should just chalk it up to poor social skills and nothing else.

2) Help integrate yourself. Even if you are normally more productive writing at home, work in the office a lot during the first year. Make a point of loitering in the hall when it is near lunch time, so people will notice you and think of asking you along to lunch. Continue reading “advice for new assistant professors”

one last asa gripe

I’ve just learned that I messed up.  I was supposed to choose WHICH roundtable session to forward those incoming papers to .  According to Kendra at ASA, I should have known this because last October I received an email that says “second priority organizers are responsible for forwarding unused acceptable papers to the appropriate roundtable organizer.”  Apparently just clicking reject did not automatically forward the paper (unlike the first round process), and apparently submitters don’t get to choose their roundtable back up, their second choice session organizer is supposed to make this choice for them.  Bad word bad word bad word.  I sent a complaint pointing out that this system makes no sense, as it is the paper submitter who ought to choose which roundtable session to go to, and that important instructions should be posted on the organizer web site, not hidden in old email messages four months removed from when and where they would be needed.  I also alerted Kendra at ASA to this problem so she can hopefully find the lost papers and put them in the right place.  Warning to everyone whose paper got “rejected” rather than forwarded to a roundtable: this is probably what happened.   It appears that Kendra at ASA is watching for orphan papers that need to be forwarded to roundtables, so I think she is the person to talk to if you got messed with in this way.  If you are mad, please curse your session organizer for inability to decipher a cryptic and counter-intuitive system, not an indifference to your career.

how to be a good advisee

Edit 2/6/20. I just linked to this old post. Re-reading, I’d give more overt attention to issues of student marginality and abusive profs. But I’ll let this essay otherwise stand as it was written nearly 12 years ago.

As I suggested in response to the thread about picking an advisor, it is a mistake to view an advisor as a commodity for which you comparison shop, as you might select a new dress.  Rather, it is a two-sided process of building a long-term relationship.  Your own behavior and characteristics are just as important as the advisor’s, and it isn’t just a matter of finding the right person, it is a matter of acting in ways that make both of you feel good about your interactions.  So it is important to consider what makes the experience good for the advisor, not just what makes it good for the student.  In the long run, former advisees are friends and junior colleagues and part of your professional network.  Having former students who do well in the profession make you look good.  But there can be plenty of immediate rewards in the advising experience itself.  This varies somewhat depending on personalities, of course, and others may have other opinions.  But here are the things I think about when I reflect on advisees I have appreciated and advisees who have been less satisfactory. Continue reading “how to be a good advisee”

asa session organizer site

Quick question.  ASA’s session organizer site appears non-functional.  First no response, then administrator’s login where it has never heard of me.  Anybody know what is going on?  ASA isn’t answering email; I did not try calling.  (I’m almost done, just need to forward 1 paper to round tables if it gets released by its first choice.  I can see why people don’t remember to do this.)

getting credit

This is about giving academic credit on an independent study basis for doing service or work for a community or political organization, where the faculty member is doing this as an optional overload.  It is not about official service-learning courses, nor about official internships that are part of a coherent program.  A number of organizations set up programs where students get academic credit for working for them through the mechanism of an independent study.  Recent requests have raised ethical issues for me, and I thought this might be a good topic for more general discussion and reflection.  The ethical issues such arrangements raise are both academic and political.  Here’s my thinking: Continue reading “getting credit”


Maybe as long as two years ago, a state legislator  called me to say that they were trying to get a commission created to deal with racial disparities, and would I agree to be on it if asked.  Last January, the Governor announced that such a commission would be created, and it made front page news; I got a lot of reporter calls about it, many asking me if I’d be on the commission.  I said I did not know if I’d be asked, but I’d serve if asked.  The commission got created in late March and had its first meeting in April.  The fact that the commission had actually been appointed was not news and was buried in a short paragraph in back pages.  We were supposed to report in October, but this was impossible.  Given the expertise on the commission, we could have begun writing our report at the first meeting and done a good job, but it was deemed important to get testimony from stakeholders and the public, and there were some things we learned we did not already know.  Because of that, and other often-frustrating organizational issues I will not go into, we had to defer the deadline and were not able to really write the report until January.  It is released today in the middle of one of the most exciting political weeks of the decade.  I am assuming it will get essentially zero play, as “news hole effects” (which I’ve researched) mean that any bit of news is inevitably in conflict with other news.   All I can hope is that our recommendations might get implemented despite the total lack of public discussion that can be expected from the timing of all this.

race names 2: caucasian

I just went along with a major report that uses the word Caucasian throughout (along with African American). I personally hate the word Caucasian, I associate it with scientific racism*, it seems smarmy to me, it makes my skin crawl. But I know a lot of people use it if they think the color names (Black, White) are wrong, and I don’t want to get into dissing people about using a word in good faith just because I hate it. The proper parallel to African American is European American, which I also call myself, along with White. I did not say anything because we had way too many other things to worry about to bother with my dislike of this race name. So anyway, does anybody else care about this?

*Its origins are scientific racism, in the distinction between Caucasoid, Negroid and Mongoloid as the three main races. I’m not saying the people who use it today are racists, scientific or otherwise. They are just grasping for some word to use in uncertain terrain where the colors names are stigmatized and the continent names have not caught on for Whites. Why the name European American has not caught on tells you a lot about US race culture, but that is another story.

PS . This would be an example of why using a pseudonym is good, as I don’t want to hurt the feelings of the people who worked hard on the report using the race name I hate.

black vs african american

This may be the wrong network for this question, but here’s a try. In general, the terms “Black” and “African American” are considered non-derogatory among people in that group, with some preferring one and others the other and many people using them interchangeably. By contrast, many White young people are being taught that “African American” is the only acceptable term, and that “Black” is insulting. I am getting feedback from my students — few of whom are Black, some of whom have gone to integrated schools — that there are places where young AfAm/Black people take offense at the term Black, and other places where young AfAm/Black people laugh off or dislike African American and strongly prefer Black. So I’m pretty sure this is varying. My question is, does anybody know the parameters of how it is varying? What geographic areas or types of places go one way or the other? My hypothesis is that the only places where African American is preferred and Black is seen as derogatory is in White-dominated schools where the Black/AfAm kids are picking up what White kids are taught. But that could be wrong. Continue reading “black vs african american”

memory lane: shirley chisholm

I’d forgotten until I saw a mention of her on another blog.  My first big foray into politics was in 1972, when I worked on the Shirley Chisholm campaign in North Carolina.  “Unbought and Unbossed.”   My memories of this are hazy.   My biggest excitement was meeting her and getting her autograph.  I think most of the people in the campaign were White feminists.  I remember accosting some Black guys selling the Black Panther newspaper, urging them to vote for her.*  I remember going to a precinct meeting where it turned out the McGovern forces had organized a railroad.  She wouldn’t have done any worse in the general election than he did.  Some links: one and another.

*My racial politics were what could be called well-meaning, egalitarian and naive in those days.


Joining blogland has been interesting, if time consuming.  I’ve been particularly interested in tapping into the universe of Black & biracial blogs, the debates about adoption, and the academic blogs.  I also realized I have been on a run of non-sociological experiences this week.  After a week spent nose down finishing a grant proposal (the sociology part), I have had or will have the following experiences within a four-day period.  (1) The final meeting Friday of a  commission hammering out proposals to address issues of racial bias.  I’m the only academic in the group, which has lots of lawyers, judges, social service professionals, and public officials.  About half are Black.  Very different from the very pale academic circles that I usually move in, and an interesting good experience, although not without its frustrations in terms of process.  (2) Spending the night sleeping on a cot at my church, where I’m doing my turn as a volunteer in a program providing temporary housing for homeless people.  A couple of new families had moved into the program and the women sat up late last night talking with each other, forming relationships and getting to know one another, while my husband and I went to sleep on cots in the other room.   This morning we got up at 6 to put on the coffee and provide whatever assistance we could, as the families had to be up, have all their possessions packed for the move to the next church, and out by 7 am to go to the day center while volunteers came in to clean out the rooms so they would be ready for Sunday School by 9.  (3) Tomorrow I’m supposed to give a lunch talk to a group of Democrats about racial issues in my community; they want an update about what has been happening in the Commission.  I have not figured out what to tell them.  I’ll have to call the organizer to remind myself what to say, as they won’t be set up for my usual PowerPoint spiel.  I also suddenly realized this morning that classes start Tuesday and I don’t have the syllabus updated and printed for my 150 students, so I’m going to have to (one again) impose on the good will of the office staff to get it ready on time.  At least the class is in the afternoon.  And I have a ton of work to do to get ready for my Wednesday graduate seminar.  Moving right along.

dysfunctional ASA rules?

I like on-line paper submission a lot. But I’m worried that the rigid selection rules ASA has imposed along with the on-line system are dysfunctional, specifically that a paper can only be seen by the organizer to whom it has been submitted and that organizer of choice #2 only sees the paper if organizer of choice #1 rejects it. Back in the bad old days, we had to deal with boxes and boxes of paper — I got several hundred submissions one year — Continue reading “dysfunctional ASA rules?”