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?”

a not for profit post

A friend and I did some shopping yesterday, including a stop at Ten Thousand Villages, which prominently announced underneath its name: “A Not For Profit Store.” This being my first time, I asked my friend, “So, then, what’s the point?” The apparent point is that the money they would make as a profit gets passed along to the people in various developing countries who make the products, so these suppliers make more money than they would otherwise.

Of course, a store with this mission could conduct itself by acting just like a for-profit business, only instead of distributing its profits to its owners passing that money back up the supply chain. However, one way the store makes more money than it otherwise might is that it is staffed by volunteers, and so it operates with lower labor costs. And, of course, the store is able to attract progressively-minded customers and get them to pay a greater markup than they otherwise might because it allows us to spend some of our–in the great scheme of things, let’s be honest, ridiculously undeserved–wealth buying unneeded material goods for others in a way that makes us feel like we are doing something positive for the world. My presumption is that this last source of profit is much greater than the first two for how much money the enterprise is ultimately able to give back to its suppliers in the developing world.

I bought a curio for a friend. The store also sells holiday cards, and I was tempted to buy one and write inside “I could have just given $20 in your name to charity, but instead I got you a $20 knick-knack that you don’t need in the hope that maybe $3 more of it gets back to the person who made it than otherwise would. And let’s face it: you prefer that I got you the knick-knack, and so would I. Sick, is what we are. Sick, bloated and spoiled.” Continue reading “a not for profit post”

maybe the 900-foot jesus told him to go to the bahamas

News today of the son of Oral Roberts, Richard Roberts, president of Oral Roberts University, resigning after accusations that he embezzled funds for such luxury items as a stable of horses and a trip to the Bahamas on the university jet (the university jet?!). Or, I guess it isn’t embezzlement if you just charge it to the university account rather than take the money out and put it into your own account, so we’ll just say “misuse of funds.”

Of course, any story related to Oral Roberts reminds me of his famous vision of a 900-foot Jesus who told him to build a Christian hospital. It also reminds me that I haven’t listened to MC 900 Ft. Jesus in a while, and that naming your band after current events only is cool for a short while.

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.

happy thanksgiving

A lovely hush has come over the blog, and my email inbox, this Thanksgiving holiday, as all you Americans take a break from your internet duties to (hopefully) remember what we are all working so hard for. Though up north our Thanksgiving is a distant memory (mmm…homemade biscuits…), it is nice to realize why the volume has gone down so suddenly.

While you’re still calmly reflecting on all that you have, and before you start the frenzy of preparations for the next big holiday, why don’t you head over to mom’s fabulous blog to get some great ideas for gifts that are more about bringing joy than developing brand loyalty. After all, there are only 33 more crafting days until Christmas.

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”

our gnotobios, our selves

The term “gnotobiotic” stems from the Greek words “gnosis” (“known”) and “bios” (“life”).   Somewhat paradoxically, a gnotobiotic animal is, at least originally, one with no known life.  That is, a gnotobiotic animal is born and reared in a sterile environment, so that it is germ free (or GF, in the parlance of the articles I’ve been reading of late).   Gnotobiotic animals can be colonized, then, with defined microbiota and used in research that examines the role of specific microbes (e.g., by comparing physiologic processes in gnotobiotic and colonized animals).

Why is this interesting to a sociologist (beyond the opportunity for wordplay with the Rumsfeldian title of the previous post?).  Well, it’s interesting to this sociologist because research using gnotobiotic animals is part of recent scientific endeavors, like the Human Microbiome Project (HMP), which focus on the relationship between humans and our microbiota, the microorganisms that live on and in human beings.  While many aspects of the HMP are fascinating, I am most riveted by the proposition that it will support an understanding of the human as a “superorganism”: Continue reading “our gnotobios, our selves”

the believing trick

From Jon Elster, Ulysses Unbound, p. 72:

It is a conceptual truth that one cannot consciously decide to adopt a belief simply on the grounds that having it would be useful.

Not to get all personal here on sociology’s brand-new team blog, but can I just say: clearly Jon Elster has not dated some of the people I have dated. ‘Cause then he would have had conversations suggesting some deep empirical limitations to his conceptual truth. ‘Cause then he’d have ascertained that while, say, a person did not really, really believe in astrology, that, for immediate practical purposes they indeed did/would give all indications of believing in astrology, including reading charts and drawing conclusions about others on the basis thereof. (Various other things could be substituted for astrology here, depending on what conversation and with whom.) I guess “useful” in the quote isn’t really it so much as “adopting a belief on the grounds that having it would make life more interesting, meaningful or fun.” Continue reading “the believing trick”

little hiss can’t be wrong

A friend who works in the private sector somewhere on the Great Plains sent me a story from a national business newsletter in which someone at her company was interviewed. She asked me to identify which of several quotes from this co-worker bothered other people at the company. I presumed this challenge would be easy enough but looked the article over several times and didn’t see what she was talking about. So I asked and the answer was this part where her co-worker was quoted using the phrase “throw a hissy fit.” This was bothersome because people felt it gave them impression of their corporation as a backwoods rube-run enterprise. It didn’t even faze me. I’m trying to figure out if “hissy fit” is an uninterrogated part of my rural habitus. I mean, of course I recognize it as a colloquialism, but is it really a rural colloquism? Is that I would now say “throw a snit” instead of “throw a hissy fit” an unconscious version of when I started saying “soda” instead of “pop”?

BTW, non-sequitur personal Thanksgiving update: Continue reading “little hiss can’t be wrong”

[something nice here]

A number of my classes in graduate school incorporated peer review. It was “practice” for when we were further entrenched in the big, bad world of academia and would have to write real reviews. Now that I am a full-fledged member of that world, and responsible for reviewing a variety of papers, I’m thinking that the “practice” wasn’t as helpful as I hoped it would be.

I used to write nasty reviews. We all did. We wanted to show the professors how smart we were and how other students’ work clearly wasn’t up to par. There were no hard feelings. That was what we though being a grad student was all about.

Well, now that I’ve actually read real reviews of my own work and listened to enough Q&As, I just can’t be as nasty as I once was. I make a conscious effort to pepper this “constructive criticism” with niceties. However, I haven’t yet figured out how to write it that way. Instead, I sit down like this morning and let the nastiness “constructive criticism” pour out of me and actually put inserts in the review text of [something nice here] so that I don’t lose my train of thought. That way, when it comes time to re-read the review and make sure it’s constructive before sending it out, I’m sure to slip a little niceness in there.

I’m working on this with questions, too. I envy those who have perfected the sandwich technique [strength] [criticism] [nicety]. I think I’ll start practicing it with my kid to get the hang of it. “I really like your coloring there. Your violet oak tree shows a creative use of the color purple. If I could just make one comment: Maybe you should work on staying between the lines. You might also reconsider the use of crayons. Markers may be a more effective tool in this case. This is quite interesting, though. Thank you for sharing it with me.”