Archive for the ‘academia’ Category
Phil Magness is at it again. In a recent blog post, he presented the results of a very simple exercise. Go to the Modern Language Association web site, search for the number panels on specific authors (e.g., Shakespeare or Toni Morrison) and compare with the number of panels you find if you search for topics relating to politically controversial topics like climate change. The results? I will quote Phil here:
So…I decided to take a look. The following rough tallies show the number of MLA 2017 sessions that included at least one paper or presentation on an overtly political topic.
- 22 sessions featured one or more presentations on environmental justice themes (e.g. climate change, ecology, animal rights/extinction, and resource extraction)
- 15 sessions featured one or more presentations on “globalization”
- 39 sessions featured one or more presentations on “postcolonialism”
- 8 sessions featured one or more presentations on adjunct activism or “contingent” academic labor
- 10 sessions featured one or more presentations invoking “neoliberalism”
- 3 sessions featured one or more presentations on the politics of boycotting (usually tied to the Israel-Palestine conflict)
Some of this is standard fare, especially in Critical Theory-infected disciplines. But I was also curious how it stacked up against what most people think of as the scholarly domain of English professors, which is to say the standards of the literary canon. For comparison, here are the number of sessions that include at least one paper on a prominent literary figure’s work:
Whenever I write about jobs and graduate school on this blog, I usually get one or two people who accuse me of “careerism.” For example, when I wrote about how to be productive a few weeks ago, the following comment was posted by jon:
What Fabio was talking about is probably careerism. Most successful scholars, may I say, unfortunately do follow that trajectory. But there are a few great ones that don’t. Only real geniuses are productive. Average good scholars are remembered for only one or two pieces of masterful works. This is most obvious in hard science such as mathematics and physics, and I don’t know why it wouldn’t apply to social science.
The previous comment, by Santosh Sali, elaborates:
Reading the post – gives me few impressions,
1) Being productive is about making “work-around” for serious, solo, committed work.
2) Academia is all about “Publishing” . And “teaching” doesn’t matter or it is “mundane” n trivial aspect.
3) So then where is original “contribution” of researcher? How will system assess/evaluate it?
4)Also using doctoral scholars, post-docs to work with is “collaboration” or “something else”.
5) also I have genuine doubt, these suggestions – will bring “breadth” in your work, what about “depth” – isn’t that people enter academia for this? (Or probably I am in utopian world).
A few responses. If by “careerism,” you mean “you wish to rewarded and promoted for doing good teaching and research,” then yes, I am absolutely a careerist. If you mean by careerism means “avoiding doing good work and focusing only on raises and promotions,” then, no, I do not mean that and nothing I wrote supports that.
Rather, my recommendations are about working smart. For example, let’s take Santosh’ #2 point – “academia is all about publishing.” Actually, I never said that. As any faculty member will tell you, academia is about many things. In a liberal arts college, you will do lots and lots of teaching. Even in a research university, professors will spend a lot of time prepping lectures, meetings with students, and grading papers. I know I do! Academia is also about administration and service.
The tricky thing is how to balance all these demands. My suggestion from the post boils down to a few ideas: work in groups; recognize diminishing returns; recognize work that can be minimized or avoided. At no point did I saw that you should do poorly in the class room. Rather, you should try to recognize that there may be a way to be an excellent teacher without creating more work for yourself. Same with research. Sure, *some* types of research *might* require a lot of solo work. But normally, most work improves with collaborators. So if you want to improve at your job, give these ideas a chance.
While higher ed has certainly been under attack since the election, Donald Trump hasn’t said too much about his agenda for higher education, and with Betsy DeVos, charter school aficionado, at the helm of the Department of Education, it seems like K-12 issues may be at the forefront of the new administration.
What’s pretty clear, though, is that “free college”, a la Bernie or, more reluctantly, Hillary, is not on that agenda. But free college, it turns out, has not disappeared: New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced a free college proposal of his own, to apply to SUNY and CUNY schools.
Cuomo’s proposal would make SUNY/CUNY tuition-free for families with incomes of up to $125,000. It would require full-time attendance, and be “last-dollar” aid—i.e., the fee waiver would kick in after federal Pell grants, NY state Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) grants, and any scholarships were already used up.
New York is not the first state to set forth some kind of “free college” proposal—see Tennessee and Oregon. However, it is the first to take it beyond the community college level. And the mere size of the NYS system—enrolling a million students—makes it impossible to ignore.
So, some caveats. “Free tuition” probably doesn’t cover fees, which at my SUNY, at least, are nearly $3000 a year. And it definitely doesn’t cover living expenses. New York also has low tuition, compared to most states—it is still only $6470 at four-year SUNYs. And it has a decent—though not as generous as California’s—state grant aid program in TAP. If your income is low enough—I’d guess below $50k, though that’s just a ballpark—between Pell and TAP you’re not paying any tuition anyway. As Matthew Chingos accurately points out in the Washington Post, families with incomes between $80,000 and $125,000 will benefit most.
And the fact that living expenses are still, at SUNY/CUNY, larger than tuition costs means that it’s also not going to make that much dent in student loans, which are lower-than-average (about $20k for four-year degrees) for SUNY graduates anyway. Cuomo’s headline about “alleviating crushing burden of student loans” is hyperbole.
So what this is, is a significant, and expensive, expansion of grant aid for the middle-class, and a reframing of what college costs (nothing! I know, I know) that may encourage lower-income students to go to college. And tying the benefit to full-time attendance may encourage more full-time enrollment, which evidence suggests (though there are a lot of selection effects here) facilitates completion.
And, of course, this is just a proposal. It’s not yet legislation, and there are a lot of steps between here and there. Nevertheless, despite its limitations, if this became a reality I think the implications for higher ed would be huge—for the symbolic value of committing to the idea that students should not pay for tuition, if nothing else.
One is the question of whether this would be resource-neutral for SUNY and CUNY. There’s no indication it’s not intended to be, but a lot will depend on the details. For SUNY, at least, funding has only been loosely linked to tuition levels. Sometimes New York State has raised tuition to plug its revenue gaps, without SUNY ever seeing the money.
A second is how it intersects with the push for larger enrollments, which has been a pounding drumbeat over the last three or four years at SUNY (not sure about CUNY). Right now, additional students—even in-state ones—bring marginal benefits, but would that still be the case if many of them weren’t paying tuition? I don’t think the enrollment push has been particularly good for the institution, but it’s also been sold as the path to financial solvency. If free tuition means no benefits to larger enrollments, SUNY will have to find a new strategy for achieving long-term fiscal stability.
This could also affect who gets to enroll. Free tuition might make selective schools more competitive—which is probably good for them as institutions. But it also might encourage an even heavier focus on out-of-state and international students who can bring more revenue. That, in turn, could lead to battles over who gets the seats—New York residents or non-New-Yorkers paying full freight—which have been brutal in California, but largely absent in New York.
Finally, this clearly affects the complex organizational ecosystem of higher ed. It’s bad for private institutions in New York, especially small struggling colleges like Albany’s Saint Rose, which cut two dozen tenure lines last year in a desperate attempt to stay afloat. It’s probably also bad for for-profit colleges—largely because of the symbolic value of making college “free” rather than real changes in relative cost, since for-profit students are disproportionately in the lower-income group that wouldn’t benefit anyway.
But I’d hold that the biggest impact of such a plan would be the symbolic one. Is it ideal that it’s basically a middle-class tax benefit that does nothing material for lower-income families? No. But the institutional details of the New York State system—its relatively low tuition and preexisting state grant aid—make it possible to create “tuition-free college” here for less money than it would cost in many places. Showing that it can be done will make free college more than a pipe dream. SUNY/CUNY is the 500-pound gorilla of public higher ed. Where New York leads, others will follow.
I’ve had the opportunity to meet a number of scholars who, by any conventional standard, are very productive and they aren’t stuffing the CV with obscure publications. And I’ve asked them, how do you manage to pull this off? Here are the answers that I get:
- Team work: Almost every star I’ve asked works in large groups. If you look at the CV’s, they have tons of co-authors.
- Division of Labor: A lot of them have told me that they are very good at assigning tasks. One of them told me he *never* does fund raising. He works with another prof who in a medical school who has access to funds.
- Shamelessness: Most academics sulk over rejections. These folks don’t. Soon as a paper gets rejected, they send it out ASAP.
- Recognizing diminishing marginal returns: A paper will improve between first and second drafts. These folks understand that obsession over the 2oth and 21st version is pointless.
- Attitude: Sounds corny, but every single one of these folks has an amazing forward looking attitude. They love what they do and they see the future as bright.
- Minimizing junk work: Some probably shirk teaching or admin work, but what I have observed is that they are ruthlessly efficient. They reuse course materials, borrow syllabi, and use teaching to deepen their knowledge of a topic.
- Recognizing the randomness of reviews: Most people complain about the randomness of reviewers. The star publishers draw the logical conclusion. If you can get random negatives, you get random positives.So just keep submitting until it you randomly pull positive reviews.
Bottom line: Sure, some people are geniuses, but a lot of productive people simply very good at time management and they don’t let the little things get to them.
Over the summer, SocArXiv announced its development. What is SocArXiv, you ask? It’s a free, open source, open access depository for prepublication versions of papers — a way to get your work out there faster, and to more people. Think SSRN or Academia or ResearchGate, but not-for-profit (SSRN is now owned by Elsevier) and fundamentally committed to accessibility.
SocArXiv has had the great fortune to partner with the Center for Open Science, the folks who brought you the Reproducibility Project. Because COS was already working on building infrastructure, SocArXiv was quickly able to put up a temporary drop site for papers. (Full disclosure: I’m on the SocArXiv steering committee.)
Just on the basis of that, more than 500 papers have been deposited and downloaded over 10,000 times. Now a permanent site is up, and we will be working to get the word out and encourage sociologists and other social scientists to make the jump. With financial support from the Open Society Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, this thing is looking pretty real.
More developments will be coming in the months ahead. We’ve partnered with the LSE’s International Inequalities Institute to establish our first working paper series, and will be spearheading an outreach effort to academics, as well as continuing to develop additional features. I will doubtless be highlighting some of those here.
In the meanwhile, take a look, and add a paper of your own. It’s quick and painless, and will help you make your work quickly accessible while contributing to the development of open science infrastructure.
On All Hallow’s Eve, it’s time to flip off the lights, take out the flashlight to illuminate our faces from below, and swap scary stories. For some of us, the scary stuff lurks constantly, just around the corner where we work: the unfinished thesis, courtesy of Academia Obscura:
But, far worse horrors exist – namely, researcher misconduct. While the most obvious cases of falsified data and plagiarized writings are caught and retracted, more subtle cases are unfortunately harder to pursue, prove, and punish.
Are these cases of sociopathic scholars or scholars made sociopathic by the system? At least two civil engineers worry that the current academic system of incentives could possibly tip scholars towards misconduct. In their abstract, authors Marc A. Edwards and Siddhartha Roy warn about how the increasingly competitive race for funding in STEM could potentially ruin scholarship.
Over the last 50 years, we argue that incentives for academic scientists have become increasingly perverse in terms of competition for research funding, development of quantitative metrics to measure performance, and a changing business model for higher education itself. Furthermore, decreased discretionary funding at the federal and state level is creating a hypercompetitive environment between government agencies (e.g., EPA, NIH, CDC), for scientists in these agencies, and for academics seeking funding from all sources—the combination of perverse incentives and decreased funding increases pressures that can lead to unethical behavior. If a critical mass of scientists become untrustworthy, a tipping point is possible in which the scientific enterprise itself becomes inherently corrupt and public trust is lost, risking a new dark age with devastating consequences to humanity. Academia and federal agencies should better support science as a public good, and incentivize altruistic and ethical outcomes, while de-emphasizing output.
In particular, Edwards and Roy single out three conditions as problematic in sites where much of research is conducted: the university:
Recently, however, an emphasis on quantitative performance metrics (Van Noorden, 2010), increased competition for static or reduced federal research funding (e.g., NIH, NSF, and EPA), and a steady shift toward operating public universities on a private business model (Plerou, et al., 1999; Brownlee, 2014; Kasperkevic, 2014) are creating an increasingly perverse academic culture.
They note how academics fear that misconduct is becoming widespread as opposed to isolated instances:
Ultimately, the well-intentioned use of quantitative metrics may create inequities and outcomes worse than the systems they replaced. Specifically, if rewards are disproportionally given to individuals manipulating their metrics, problems of the old subjective paradigms (e.g., old-boys’ networks) may be tame by comparison. In a 2010 survey, 71% of respondents stated that they feared colleagues can “game” or “cheat” their way into better evaluations at their institutions (Abbott, 2010), demonstrating that scientists are acutely attuned to the possibility of abuses in the current system.
They also worry that people attracted to academia for altruistic reasons will be turned off by the perverse incentives and exit the system for careers and workplaces that are more consistent with their values and goals:
While there is virtually no research exploring the impact of perverse incentives on scientific productivity, most in academia would acknowledge a collective shift in our behavior over the years (Table 1), emphasizing quantity at the expense of quality. This issue may be especially troubling for attracting and retaining altruistically minded students, particularly women and underrepresented minorities (WURM), in STEM research careers. Because modern scientific careers are perceived as focusing on “the individual scientist and individual achievement” rather than altruistic goals (Thoman et al., 2014), and WURM students tend to be attracted toward STEM fields for altruistic motives, including serving society and one’s community (Diekman et al., 2010, Thoman et al., 2014), many leave STEM to seek careers and work that is more in keeping with their values (e.g., Diekman et al., 2010; Gibbs and Griffin, 2013; Campbell, et al., 2014).
Under the subheading “If nothing is done, we will create a corrupt academic culture,” the authors warn about the collapse of the academic commons. At the end of their paper, they offer several possibilities for starting to address these issues, including research into the dimensions of research misconduct, a more explicit discussion of values, and a reconfiguration of incentives:
(1) The scope of the problem must be better understood, by systematically mining the experiences and perceptions held by academics in STEM fields, through a comprehensive survey of high-achieving graduate students and researchers.
(2) The National Science Foundation should commission a panel of economists and social scientists with expertise in perverse incentives, to collect and review input from all levels of academia, including retired National Academy members and distinguished STEM scholars. The panel could also develop a list of “best practices” to guide evaluation of candidates for hiring and promotion, from a long-term perspective of promoting science in the public interest and for the public good, and maintain academia as a desirable career path for altruistic ethical actors.
(3) Rather than pretending that the problem of research misconduct does not exist, science and engineering students should receive instruction on these subjects at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Instruction should include a review of real world pressures, incentives, and stresses that can increase the likelihood of research misconduct.
(4) Beyond conventional goals of achieving quantitative metrics, a PhD program should also be viewed as an exercise in building character, with some emphasis on the ideal of practicing science as service to humanity (Huber, 2014).
(5) Universities need to reduce perverse incentives and uphold research misconduct policies that discourage unethical behavior.