orgtheory.net

Archive for the ‘academia’ Category

in NYC spring 2018 semester? looking for a PhD-level course on “Change and Crisis in Universities?”

leave a comment »

Are you a graduate student in the Inter-University Doctoral Consortium or a CUNY graduate student?*  If so, please consider taking “Change & Crisis in Universities: Research, Education, and Equity in Uncertain Times” class at the Graduate Center, CUNY.  This course is cross-listed in the Sociology, Urban Education and Interdisciplinary Studies programs.

Ruth Milkman and I are co-teaching this class together this spring on Tuesdays 4:15-6:15pm.  Our course topics draw on research in organizations, labor, and inequality.  This course starts on Tues., Jan. 30, 2018.

Here’s our course description:

 

This course examines recent trends affecting higher education, with special attention to how those trends exacerbate class, race/ethnicity, and gender inequalities. With the rising hegemony of a market logic, colleges and universities have been transformed into entrepreneurial institutions. Inequality has widened between elite private universities with vast resources and public institutions where students and faculty must “do more with less,” and austerity has fostered skyrocketing tuition and student debt. Tenure-track faculty lines have eroded as contingent academic employment balloons.  The rise of on-line “learning” and expanding class sizes have raised concerns about the quality of higher education, student retention rates, and faculty workloads.  Despite higher education’s professed commitment to diversity, disadvantaged racial and ethnic groups remain underrepresented, especially among faculty. Amid growing concerns about the impact of micro-aggressions, harassment, and even violence on college campuses, liberal academic traditions are under attack from the right. Drawing on social science research on inequality, organizations, occupations, and labor, this course will explore such developments, as well as recent efforts by students and faculty to reclaim higher education institutions.

We plan to read articles and books on the above topics, some of which have been covered by orgtheory posts and discussions such as epopp’s edited RSO volume, Armstrong and Hamilton’s Paying for the Party, and McMillan Cottom’s Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy.  We’ll also be discussing readings by two of our guestbloggers as well, Ellen Berrey and Caroline W. Lee.

*If you are a student at one of the below schools, you may be eligible, after filing  paperwork by the GC and your institution’s deadlines, to take classes within the Consortium:

Columbia University, GSAS
Princeton University – The Graduate School
CUNY Graduate Center
Rutgers University
Fordham University, GSAS
Stony Brook University
Graduate Faculty, New School University
Teachers College, Columbia University
New York University, GSAS, Steinhardt

Advertisements

Written by katherinechen

January 8, 2018 at 8:12 pm

one possible policy to address harassment in the academy

It is hard to prevent or control harassment in the academy because graduate students and post-docs often rely exclusively on a single person for professional support. Thus, if your adviser or supervisor acts inappropriately, it is very, very hard to find a replacement without wrecking your career.

This fits with a more general theory that harassment is facilitated by situations where men monopolize a resource. In the academy, we give a monopoly to the adviser or lab directors, in the case of post-docs. This is what prevents many graduate students from lodging complaints. While the university slowly adjudicates a complaint, the adviser can ruin one’s life and there isn’t much you can do.

One possible solution is to institute a policy of “adviser bankruptcy” and an “adviser credit rating.” Bankruptcy is what is sounds like. If the university receives credible evidence that a faculty member is abusing graduate students, their chairmanship of the dissertation committee is dissolved and the university actively seeks a replacement, possibly from another school. This last issue is important. If a whole department is toxic, or the university believes that the faculty will seek revenge within the department, or simply that there is no qualified member within a program, an external chair may be needed.

The credit rating policy is what it sounds like. All graduate faculty start with a “good” rating but if the university receives credible evidence of harassment or other misconduct, they are down graded. Downgraded faculty are suspended from the graduate faculty until (a) all charges are cleared or (b) an appropriate punishment has been served.

I don’t claim that this sort of policy will magically make a severe problem disappear, but it opens up options for victims abuse where there aren’t any right now.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street / Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!

Written by fabiorojas

December 13, 2017 at 5:01 am

sociology journal reviewing is dumb (except soc sci and contexts) and computer conference reviewing is the way to go. seriously.

This post is an argument for moving away from the current model of sociology journal reviewing and adopting the computer science model. Before I get into it, I offer some disclaimers:

  1. I do not claim that the CS conference system is more egalitarian or produces better reviews. Rather, my claim is that it is more efficient and better for science.
  2. Philip Cohen will often chime in and argue that journals should be abolished and we should just dispense with peer review. I agree, but I am a believer in intermediary steps.
  3. I do not claim that computer science lacks journals. Rather, that field treats journals as a secondary form of publication and most of the action happens in the conference proceeding format.
  4. Some journals are very well run – Sociological Science does live up to its promise, for example, as a no nonsense place for publication. I am not claiming that every single journal is lame. Just most of them.

Let’s start. How do most sociology journals operate? It goes something like this:

  1. A scholarly organization or press appoints an editor, or a team, to run a journal.
  2. There is a limit on how many articles can be published. Top journals may about only 1 in 20 submitted articles. Many journals desk reject a proportion of the submissions.
  3. When you submit an article, the editors ask people to review the paper. There are  deadlines, but they are routinely broken and people vary wildly in terms of the attention they give to papers.
  4. When the reviews are written, which can take as short as a few days but as long as a year or more, the editors then make a judgment.
  5. Most papers with positive reviews and that the editors like go through massive revisions.
  6. The paper is reviewed again, completely from scratch and often with new reviews.
  7. If the paper is accepted, then this takes as little as a semester but more like a year or two.

This system made sense in a world of limited resources. But it has many, many flaws. Let’s list them:

  1. Way too much power in the hands of editors. For example, I was told a day or two ago that a previous editor of a major journal simply desk rejected all papers using Twitter data. A while ago, another editor a major journal just decided she had enough of health papers and started desk rejecting them as well. Maybe these choices are justified, maybe they aren’t.
  2. Awful, awful reviewer incentives. Basically, we beg cranky over worked people to spend hours reading papers. Some people do a good job, but many are simply bad at it. Even when they try, they may not be the best people to read it.
  3. Massive time wasting. Basically, we have a system where it is normal for papers to bounce around the journal system *for years.*
  4. Bloated papers. Many of the major advances in science, in previous ages, where made in 5 and 10 page papers. Now, to head off reviewers, people write massive papers with tons of appendices.

Ok, if the system is lame, then what is the alternative? It is simple and very easy to do: move to peer reviewed conference system of computer sciecne. How does that work?

  1. Set up a yearly conference.
  2. Like an editorial board, you recruit a pool of peer reviewers and they commit to peer review *before seeing the papers.* Every year, the conference had new “chairs,” who organize the pool.
  3. Set hard page/word limits. The computer will not accept papers that are not in the right range.
  4. Once papers and abstracts are submitted, the reviewers *choose* which papers to review. People can indicate how badly they want a paper and you then allocate.
  5. Each paper had a “guide” who hounds reviewers and guides conversation
  6. Set hard deadlines. These will be followed (mostly) because there serious consequences if it doesn’t.
  7. Papers can then be ranked in terms of reviews and the conference chairs can have final say. Papers are not perfect or make everyone happy. They just have to be in the top X% of papers.
  8. CS proceedings sometimes allow discussion between reviewers, which can clarify issues.
  9. Some conferences allow an “R&R” stage. If the paper’s authors think they can respond to reviews, they can submit a “rebuttal.”
  10. In any case, accepted or revised papers also have to stay under the limit and must be submitted by a hard deadline.
  11. From submission to acceptance might be 3 months, tops. And this applies to all papers. The processes

Let’s review how this system is superior to the traditional journal system:

  1. Speed: a paper that may take 2-3 years to find a home in the sociology system, takes about one or two semesters in this system. The reason is that the process concludes quickly for every single paper and there are usually multiple conferences you can try.
  2. Lack of editorial monopoly: The reviewers and chairs rotate every conference, so if you think you just got a bad draw, just try again next year.
  3. Conversation: In the CS conference software (easychair.org), reviewers can actually talk to each other to clarify what they think.
  4. (Slightly) Better Reviews: People can choose which papers to review, which means you are way more likely to get someone who cares. Unlike the current system, papers don’t get orphaned and you are more likely to get someone invested in the process.
  5. Hard page limits: No bloated papers or response memos. It is tightly controlled.

The system is obviously faster. You get the same variety of good and bad reviews, but it is way, way faster. Papers don’t get orphaned or forgotten at journals and all reviews conclude within about 2 months. Specific editors no longer matter and single gatekeepers don’t bottle neck the system. It is better for science because more papers get out faster.

Rise up – what do you have to lose except your bloated R&Rs?

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street / Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!

 

Written by fabiorojas

December 6, 2017 at 5:01 am

sucks to be a historian

The blog of the American Historical Association has an article about the atrocious state of the job market. Until about 2007, there was a loose correlation between history jobs and history PhDs. Then, a massive drop in history jobs but an increase in history PhD production. Here’s the picture:

Advertised-Job-Openings-Compared-to-the-Number-of-New-History-PhDs-768x612

Terrible.  In some areas, jobs ads are in the single digits. Intellectual history, for example, has two job openings!! The bottom line is that PhD production must be cut back to align with the market. And unlike other fields like economics, and even sociology to some extent, there is very little demand for PhD historians outside universities. Until cut backs happen, history will continue to have one of the worst job markets in the academy.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street / Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!

Written by fabiorojas

November 22, 2017 at 2:06 am

what nonacademics should understand about taxing graduate school

There are many bad provisions in the proposed tax legislation. This isn’t even the worst of them. But it’s the one that most directly affects my corner of the world. And, unlike the tax deduction for private jets, it’s one that can be hard for people outside of that world to understand.

That proposal is to tax tuition waivers for graduate students working as teaching or research assistants. Unlike graduate students in law or medical or business schools, graduate students in PhD programs generally do not pay tuition. Instead, a small number of PhD students are admitted each year. In exchange for working half-time as a TA or RA, they receive a tuition waiver and are also paid a stipend—a modest salary to cover their living expenses.

Right now, graduate students are taxed on the money they actually see—the $20,000 or so they get to live on. The proposal is to also tax them on the tuition the university is not charging them. At most private schools, or at out-of-state rates at most big public schools, this is in the range of $30,000 to $50,000.

I think a lot of people look at this and say hey, that’s a huge benefit. Why shouldn’t they be taxed on it? They’re getting paid to go to school, for goodness sakes! And a lot of news articles are saying they get paid $30,000 a year, which is already more than many people make. So, pretty sweet deal, right?

Here’s another way to think about it.

Imagine you are part of a pretty typical family in the United States, with a household income of $60,000. You have a kid who is smart, and works really hard, and applies to a bunch of colleges. Kid gets into Dream College. But wait! Dream College is expensive. Dream College costs $45,000 a year in tuition, plus another $20,000 for room and board. There is no way your family can pay for a college that costs more than your annual income.

But you are in luck. Dream College has looked at your smart, hardworking kid and said, We will give you a scholarship. We are going to cover $45,000 of the cost. If you can come up with the $20,000 for room and board, you can attend.

This is great, right? All those weekends of extracurriculars and SAT prep have paid off. Your kid has an amazing opportunity. And you scrimp and save and take out some loans and your family comes up with $20,000 a year so your kid can attend Dream College.

But wait. Now the government steps in. Oh, it says. Look. Dream College is giving you something worth $45,000 a year. That’s income. It should be taxed like income. You say your family makes $60,000 a year, and pays $8,000 in federal taxes? Now you make $105,000. Here’s a bill for the extra $12,000.

Geez, you say. That can’t be right. We still only make $60,000 a year. We need to somehow come up with $20,000 so our kid can live at Dream College. And now we have to pay $20,000 a year in federal taxes? Plus the $7000 in state and payroll taxes we were already paying? That only leaves us with $33,000 to live on. That’s a 45% tax rate! Plus we have to come up with another $20,000 to send to Dream College! And we’ve still got a mortgage. No Dream College for you.

This is the right analogy for thinking about how graduate tuition remission works. The large majority of students who are admitted into PhD programs receive full scholarships for tuition. The programs are very selective, and students admitted are independent young adults, who generally can’t pay $45,000 a year. Unlike students entering medical, law, or business school, many are on a path to five-figure careers, so they’re not in a position to borrow heavily. Most of them already have undergraduate loans, anyway.

The university needs them to do the work of teaching and research—the institution couldn’t run without them—so it pays them a modest amount to work half-time while they study. $30,000 is unusually high; only students in the most selective fields and wealthiest universities receive that. At the SUNY campus where I work, TAs make about $20,000 if they are in STEM and $16-18,000 if they are not. At many schools, they make even less. (Here are some examples of TA/RA salaries.)

Right now, those students are taxed on the money they actually see—the $12,000 to $32,000 they’re paid by the university. Accordingly, their tax bills are pretty low—say, $1,000 to $6,000, including state and payroll taxes, if they file as individuals.

What this change would mean is that those students’ incomes would go up dramatically, even though they wouldn’t be seeing any more money. So their tax bills would go up too—to something like $5,000 to $18,000, depending on their university. Some students would literally see their modest incomes cut in half. The worst case scenario is that you go a school with high tuition ($45,000) and moderate stipends ($20,000), in which case your tax bill as an individual would go up about $13,000. Your take-home pay has just dropped from $17,500 a year to $4,500.

What would the effects of such a change be? The very richest universities might be able to make up the difference. If it wanted to, Harvard could increase stipends by $15,000. But most schools can’t do that. Some schools might try to reclassify tuition waivers to avoid the tax hit. But there’s no straightforward way to do that.

Some students would take on more loans, and simply add another $60,000 of graduate school debt to their $40,000 of undergraduate debt before starting their modest-paying careers. But many students would make other choices. They would go into other careers, or pursue jobs that don’t require as much education. International students would be more likely to go to the UK or Europe, where similar penalties would not exist. We would lose many of the world’s brightest students, and we would disproportionately lose students of modest means, who simply couldn’t justify the additional debt to take a relatively high-risk path. The change really would be ugly.

All this would be to extract a modest amount of money—only about 150,000 graduate students receive such waivers each year—as part of a tax bill that is theoretically, though clearly not in reality, aimed at helping the middle class.

It is important for the U.S. to educate PhD students. Historically, we have had the best university system in the world. Very smart people come from all over the globe to train in U.S. graduate programs. Most of them stay, and continue to contribute to this country long after their time in graduate school.

PhD programs are the source of most fundamental scientific breakthroughs, and they educate future researchers, scholars, and teachers. And the majority of PhD students are in STEM fields. There may be specific fields producing too many PhDs, but they are not the norm, and charging all PhD students another $6,000-$11,000 (my estimate of the typical increase) would be an extremely blunt instrument for changing that.

Academia is a strange and relatively small world, and the effects of an arcane tax change are not obvious if you’re not part of it. But I hope that if you don’t think we should charge families tens of thousands of dollars in taxes if their kids are fortunate enough to get a scholarship to college, you don’t think we should charge graduate students tens of thousands of dollars to get what is basically the same thing. Doing so would basically be shooting ourselves, as a country, in the foot.

[Edited to adjust rough estimates of tax increases based on the House version of the bill, which would increase standard deductions. I am assuming payroll taxes would apply to the full amount of the tuition waiver, which is how other taxable tuition waivers are currently treated. Numbers are based on California residence and assume states would continue not to tax tuition waivers. If anyone more tax-wonky than me would like to improve these estimates, feel free.]

Written by epopp

November 18, 2017 at 5:29 pm

it’s not you, it’s the job market

It is very hard for young people to not take the job market personally. If you get interviewed and you get turned down, you can always ask: “What could I have done differently?” This is a very bad way to look at things. Why? Because in many cases, you can be perfect and still not get the job. Why? There are way more good candidates than jobs.

A real example. A few years ago, Indiana sociology did a job search in Fish Science.* So we advertised for Fish Scientists and, man, oh man, did we get a great batch of junior level Fish Scientists. The top twenty or thirty Fish Science applicants has pubs in American Fish Review, the American Journal of Fish and Social Fish.** The output of the top ten Fish Scientists would outpace any program in the country. It was amazing. Then we flew out three amazing Fish Scientists. And, once again, they had some amazing Fish research. Solid stuff.

So we settled on a young Fish Scientist and zey turned out amazing. Great colleague, good in the classroom and zey continued to do top notch Fish Science. Sometime last year, I decided to check in on the other junior Fish Scientists. Of course, I couldn’t remember everyone but I did remember a fair number of the top 20. Almost every single one I could remember continued to publish. Some went to other top 10 or 20 programs and have become starts in Fish Science.

Lesson? We often pretend that we picked the #1 absolutist and bestest candidate. But the truth is that many people could do the job and excel. I am happy with the Fish Scientist that we got, but I could easily imagine others doing well in that job or doing well in my job. If you are on the other side, it is easy to tell yourself stories but the truth is that the process is random and noisy. Job markets are like weather patterns, broad in outline but chaotic at the local level.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street / Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!

*No, it is not an allusion to animals and society, or the person who wrote about the auto-ethnography of playing with their dog. And no, we didn’t do a search in ichthyology.

** Of course, we should also include Fish Problems.***

*** Ok, ok, let’s include Fishography. Happy now?

Written by fabiorojas

November 17, 2017 at 5:00 am

yes, even mediocre students deserve letters of recommendation

Yes, I believe that letters of recommendation are garbage. But if we continue to require letters, faculty have a moral obligation to write them. Why? Part of being an educator is to evaluate students for the public and as long as they subsidize us professors, we need to satisfy the external demand for assessment.

Sadly, many professors take an opposite view. Students often report that professors turn them down. That happened to me all the time in graduate school. Letters were a precious commodity reserved for the best students. That is simply wrong.  In a great post at Scatter, Older Woman explains why you should write letters for most students:

The combination of a high workload per student who needs references and claims that all letters should be excellent or not written at all leads many instructors to refuse to write letters for any but A students or students they know well.  But is this fair?

Her answer?

There are a lot of graduate and professional programs out there with widely varying degrees of selectivity. Virtually all of them require three letters of reference for an application to be complete. Getting those three letters is a nightmare for some students because they have trouble tracking down their past instructors and some they do track down refuse to write for them for reasons ranging from the student’s mediocrity to the instructor’s sabbatical or general busyness. I have had conversations in which I tell a student that the letter I could write for them would not be a very good letter and the student would say: I don’t care what it says, I just need three letters. I’ve also talked to honors students who have done independent projects and have one or two excellent letters nailed down who are still desperately shopping for somebody, anybody, to write their third letter, because no matter how good the first two letters are, the application will not be complete without the third.

My view is that all of us who are regular faculty (either tenure track or non-contingent adjuncts) should treat writing letters of reference as an often-annoying but important part of our job. These letters should be honest, and we certainly owe it to the student to tell them honestly if the letter we would be able to write would be tepid or contain negative information that would not help them. We also owe it to the student to ask them about their plans, about their perceptions of the selectivity of the program they are applying to, and whether they have done their homework in selecting a program that fits their qualifications. But if the student feels they want or need the letter anyway after this disclosure and discussion, we should write the letter.

Correct! Basically, letters are not the special property of A students. Many graduate programs simply want to know that the person did decently. Instructors are not required to write special letters for everyone. Most students just want a few sentences explaining that they showed up and did relatively decently. In fact, I think it is totally ok to write one form letter for decent, but not great, students that you can customize as you see fit. It is a requirement for large, public institutions.

Heck, you can even write short and honest letters for crummy students. A real example: In my first year teaching, a dude name Jiffy* asked me for a letter. He was a really weak student. C in intro sociology and seemed spaced out. I said, “sure, but the letter will reflect your current grade – C.” He said that was totally ok. All he wanted was a study abroad letter and all it needed to say was that he attended class and was passing. And so I wrote that letter. All I wrote was a paragraph saying that he showed up to class and would answer questions if called upon. That’s it.

I never did hear back from Jiffy but I Googled him a year ago. He’s now a successful dentist. And you know what, if I helped some dentist enjoy a semester abroad, that’s not a bad thing.

Bottom line: Quit your whining and write that letter. If you don’t think it is part of the job, get another job.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street / Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!

*Not a real name.

Written by fabiorojas

November 16, 2017 at 5:08 am

Posted in academia, fabio, teaching