tenure letters

It’s that time of year. People are considering job changes and everyone who moves from one tenured job to another needs external letters. In this game, the request for letters comes only after the department has made a hiring decision: the letters are for the an extra-departmental review at the college level. I am being asked for letters on a few weeks notice, just as I had to ask other people for them when I did my bit as chair. I am looking at several requests as I write this. Some of these are from obscure branch campuses I’ve never heard of that are asking for detailed analytic evaluations of the contributions and national influence of the candidates, for God’s sake.  Others are for extremely senior people who hardly need me to buttress their claim to fame. I have three choices: spend significant time working up a good detailed letter being sure to explain why everybody is a star, write a superficial positive letter that is at risk of being coded as reserved (i.e. negative), especially for the non-stars, or decline to write and definitely be coded as negative, again, especially for the non-stars. This is idiocy. It is bad enough that we have to do this for promotion to tenure, but does anybody believe that the external letters provide one iota of information that could not be obtained from reading the cv and the person’s publications? The department wants to know whether the person is a lunatic, but that they find out from gossip or phone calls. I don’t mind altruism and doing things for the collective good and the welfare of other scholars, but I do resent wasting my time for the benefit of bureaucratic nonsense. Not only are they asking me to read their watch for them, they are asking me to write several pages of well-crafted prose about what it says and do it for free.

the not-empty nest

There is no milk for my cereal this morning.  Two days ago, when there was no milk in the morning, my husband got his car stuck in the snowplow-created snow dam trying to get milk for me before I got up.  (Yes, he is a sweetheart.  But I’m OK, too.  After we got him unstuck, I shoveled out the snow dam while he shopped.)  Today there’s no snow dam in the driveway but he’s puttering in the basement and either did not notice the problem or thought I would not be up yet since I was working until 3 or decided I could live without my cereal this time.  Why do we have a problem with such a simple thing as keeping milk in the frig, you say?  The emptiness or fullness of our nest oscillates.  Our adult children may or may not be in the house and, when around, may invite over a number of other people which, itself, is a random variate.   The younger people often arrive and eat in the wee hours.  We joke that we can’t go downstairs in our underwear at midnight because we might have unexpected company.  It could be amusing to try to model the fluctuations.  But first I’ll fix peanut butter toast.

Just thought those of you with little children might want to know what you can look forward to.   (For the record, yes it is much less work and yes we are glad our offspring feel comfortable about inviting their friends to hang out here.  Peanut butter toast is a small price to pay, although I’d still rather have my cereal.)

graphs on web: technical question

I want to post information that consists of ~200  graphs on my web site in a format that will be accessible to the most people.  I don’t want to spend a ton of time doing this and would prefer to have the files as small as possible.  I am generating the graphs in Stata, which can produce files in these formats: wmf, pdf, png, tif; I can also have software that can translate into these formats: jpg, gif, bmp.   The .wmf graphs I produced are mostly 8-10 kb each, but there is another set that are 70-100kb each.  What format do you suggest I put them into?  If you want to give feedback about legibility etc issues based on more detailed knowledge of what is in them, please let me know and we can communicate privately.

symbolic dominance, culture and religion

When the war of the yard signs was at its peak several years ago, I wanted to put three popular signs in my yard, all together:
Let Your Light Shine: Fight Racism
We Support Gays and Lesbians
Keep Christ in Christmas
My state celebrates the winter season with the war of the symbols.  Nativity scenes on public property justly spark lawsuits by those who are not Christian.  Menorahs and “separate church and state” banners flank the decorated evergreen tree whose very name is subject of debate in the legislature.  Proposals to include Wiccan pentacles and Festivus poles add to the fun.  Some Christians have decided that “their” holiday has been ruined by any acknowledgment of others, Continue reading “symbolic dominance, culture and religion”

interview clothes

Pardon my making an executive decision here, but it seems that the “what to wear to an interview” thread that got started in the comments on a prior post should get its own line. Here is the original question: One grad student told me that her adviser said not to wear black at a jobtalk, Continue reading “interview clothes”

another shopping question

This one is less cool than an iphone but maybe you folks can help. I want to get a new small 12″ notebook computer. It is mostly for PowerPoint so I don’t need a lot of horsepower. (My main computers are my desktops.) Portability and long battery life are my main criteria. I use Windows. I’d decided to get a DellD430 which meets my specs. However, user reviews say it runs very hot. Very very hot. As I know how hot a Dell laptop can run, having long owned one that burns my legs, and being related to another that burns itself up periodically, this is leading me to rethink. Would I be happier with a thinkpad? Any advice? (PS, my old Dell held up great for a long time, despite burning my legs)


I’ve been working with an undergraduate, a senior.  She is African American, from a poor family.  None of her elders went to college, although a few cousins are doing it.  She graduated at the top of her class in an inner-city high school, where she says she never had to do any work to make As.  Her writing is markedly deficient compared to the predominantly-affluent predominantly-privileged students here, and she struggles academically.  Continue reading “disadvantage”

privilege, choices, constraints

This post is a response primarily to the young academics and other young professionals or graduate students who wrote that my story inspired them to think about their priorities or to have hope that they, too, could achieve success despite the stresses of the work-home conflict. Many wrote that it reminded them of their own priorities, and that was my main point. But some people seemed to be trying to “do it all” and viewing me as a model of success. I am fearful that you will think that I was some kind of superwoman. Because I was not superwoman and you will draw the wrong lesson if you think I was. My last post was written from the perspective of privilege and this one will be, too. This is not because I do not know I have privilege. To the contrary. I still remember the young woman in my Lamaze class who was going back to work full time four weeks after her child’s birth. Continue reading “privilege, choices, constraints”

blog reflections

As Jeremy noted in a private communication, we got more traffic in the last couple days than a run of ASR. As my first experience in blogland, it was fascinating to see the attributions made off site. It is clear that most of the traffic was generated by Kieran Healy’s extract of the “angry” paragraph and that most of the commentators on other sites never read the whole post. You would think that “I chose to be angry rather than accept defeat and adapt to my constraints” would have been a tip-off, but apparently it was not. Continue reading “blog reflections”

choices, consequences, constraints

“While they are young, the children come first.” Last week, cleaning out old files, I found a stack of priority worksheets I’d written in 1989, in one of my bursts of self-improvement. (Ironically, my taste for self-improvement books and schemes is one of the things my children find embarrassing and annoying.) So I was already reflecting on choices and their consequences when Jeremy posted “someday” and Shamus posted “how do you say no?” With a little luck, Continue reading “choices, consequences, constraints”

why does college cost so much?

The cost of higher education has far outstripped the cost of living. In the late 1960s, my tuition at an elite private school was $2400 a year, the equivalent of $12,381 in today’s dollars. Tuition today at that same elite school is $33,000. (Room & board is extra.) I’ve read reports that say that on a percentage basis, the cost of public colleges and universities has risen even faster.

At the same time, financial aid is down. Continue reading “why does college cost so much?”

holiday summary

For a decade, we have “done” Thanksgiving on a pot luck basis with two other families with children about the same age who also do not have family in the area, along with whomever else anyone feels like inviting. The “children” are now 18-27 and some are not in town. This year we had the core group minus three children living out of town plus my children’s partners plus five  friends invited by my daughter, four of whom I had not met before. Dinner was at 5:30, to start after the Packer’s game. We had 16-17 for dinner, depending on how you count the woman who hid upstairs most of the evening. Two tables were set for 8 each. The five of us over 50 sat at one table. The younger generation crowded 11 around the other table. The older folks had a good time chatting and eating and drinking wine. The younger folks ate, chatted, and played games, video and otherwise. Despite generally being of age, most of the younger people abstain from alcohol and instead drink the non-alcoholic sparkling juice that is part of our tradition. One of the guests brought a case of homemade beer that was drunk mostly by him and us oldies.  When I went to bed around midnight, a group of eight (including Miss Shy, who came downstairs after half the guests had left) were still playing “Apples to Apples.” Most everyone seemed to have a pretty good time, although my son ended up feeling pretty bad, due to his Crohn’s disease getting aggravated. I ran two dishwasher loads last night and the rest of the clean up does not look like it will be too bad today.

public sociology

Hello everyone. I’m new at this. My first thoughts are about how “out” to be. Now that I do a lot of public sociology, I have a public personna to consider. How much can I say to the web about the interesting things I’ve observed without delegitmating myself and my work? Much of what I spend a lot of time thinking about is race relations in the US, due to my teaching and public work, and I hope to write about this as I think I have had thoughts and experiences different from a lot of White people’s. But I worry about saying something in public that will seem condescending or insulting to the people I am writing about. I have to think about just how public this forum us. I was up most of the night preparing much-overdue reports for the commission I’m on. Somehow a couple of dozen of us have to agree on a report, and we have not had much time to work on it. Many of us said, “why don’t we just send email drafts around?” Turns out some people are very worried about drafts circulating. Partly we are subject to open records laws. Partly there are concerns that anything that is emailed can get forwarded to who knows who and that people would start criticizing the report before we even get it written. There are people who have already written editorials against what they expect us to say. So getting the work done is that much harder. This relates to a second point. While the political culture in my home town (which for now I’ll call Universityville) Continue reading “public sociology”