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remaking higher education for turbulent times, wed., march 28, 9am-6pm EDT, Graduate Center

For those of you in NYC (or those who want to watch a promised live webcast at bit.ly/FuturesEd-live  http://videostreaming.gc.cuny.edu/videos/livestreams/page1/ with a livestream transcript here: http://www.streamtext.net/player?event=CUNY), the Graduate Center Futures Initiative is hosting a conference of CUNY faculty and students on Wed., March 28, 9am-6pm EDT at the Graduate Center.  Our topic is: “Remaking higher education for turbulent times.” In the first session “Higher Education at a Crossroads” at 9:45am EDT,  Ruth Milkman and I, along with other panelists who have taught via the Futures Initiative, will be presenting our perspectives on the following questions:

  1. What is the university? What is the role of the university, and whom does it serve?
  2. How do political, economic, and global forces impact student learning, especially institutions like CUNY?
  3. What would an equitable system of higher education look like? What could be done differently?

Ruth and I will base our comments on our experiences thus far with teaching a spring 2018 graduate course about changes in the university system, drawing on research conducted by numerous sociologists, including organizational ethnographers.  So far, our class has included readings from:

We will discuss the tensions of reshaping long-standing institutions that have reproduced privilege and advantages for elites and a select few, as well as efforts to sustain universities (mostly public institutions) that have served as a transformational engine of socio-economic mobility and social change.  More info, including our course syllabus, is available via the Futures Initiatives blog here.

Following our session, two CUNY faculty and staff who are taking our class, Larry Tung and Samini Shahidi will be presenting about their and their classmates’ course projects.

A PDF of the full day’s activities can be downloaded here: FI-Publics-Politics-Pedagogy-8.5×11-web

If you plan to join us (especially for lunch), please RSVP ASAP at bit.ly/FI-Spring18

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Written by katherinechen

March 21, 2018 at 4:53 pm

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

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

Written by katherinechen

January 8, 2018 at 8:12 pm

class and college

When awareness about the impact of socio-economic class was not as prevalent among the public, one exercise I did with my undergraduates at elite institutions was to ask them to identify their class background.  Typically, students self-identified as being in the middle class, even when their families’ household incomes/net worth placed them in the upper class.  The NYT recently published this article showing the composition of undergraduate students, unveiling the concentration and dispersion of wealth at various higher education institutions.

As a professor who now teaches at the university listed as #2 in economic mobility (second to Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology ), I can testify to the issues that make an uneven playing field among undergraduates.  Unlike college students whose parents can “pink helicopter” on their behalf and cushion any challenges, undergraduates at CCNY are supporting their parents (if alive) and other family members, bearing the brunt of crushing challenges. (In a minority of cases, students’ parents might help out, say, with occasional childcare – but more likely, students are caring for sick family members or helping with younger siblings.)

To make the rent and cover other expenses in a high COL city, CCNY students work part-time and full-time, sometime with up to two jobs, in the low-wage retail sector.  They do so while juggling a full load of classes because their financial aid will not cover taking fewer classes.  For some students, these demands can create a vicious cycle of having to drop out of classes or earning low grades.

I always tell students to let me know of issues that might impact their academic performance. Over the years (and just this semester alone), students have described these challenges:

  • long commutes of up to 2 hours
  • landlord or housing problems
  • homelessness
  • repeated absences from class due to hospitalizations, illness/accidents, or doctor visits for prolonged health problems
  • self-medicating because of fear about high health care costs for a treatable illness
  • anxiety and depression
  • childcare issues (CCNY recently closed its on-campus childcare facility for students), such as a sick child who cannot attend school or daycare that day
  • difficulties navigating bureaucratic systems, particularly understaffed ones
  • inflexible work schedules

These are the tip of the iceberg, as students don’t always share what is happening in their lives and instead, just disappear from class.

For me, such inequalities were graphically summed up by a thank you card sent by a graduating undergraduate.  The writer penned the heartfelt wish that among other things (i.e., good health), that I always have a “full belly.”  Reflecting this concern about access to food, with the help of NYPIRG, CCNY now has a food pantry available to students.

Written by katherinechen

March 22, 2017 at 5:18 pm

surviving academic affluenza/midlife-crisis

Academia is an iron person sport – the marathon to the dissertation,  the quest for a tenure-track position, and the trek to tenure.  What happens after tenure and promotion?

In this podcast, Elizabeth Matsui (a professor and practicing doctor), Roger Peng (professor of biostats), and Brian Caffo, a recently promoted full professor in biostats, discuss the timeline of an academic career, including those on soft money.  Using a disease analogy (i.e., do you suffer from full professoritis?), they discuss various outlets where the tenured can channel efforts following the post-tenure malaise.  They outline possible routes: “staying the course,” mastering a new field, or taking on additional, different roles as an administrator, empire-builder, public scholar, editor, teacher/mentor, and consultant.  Around the 40: minute mark, Matsui raises the issue of familial responsibilities.

Elsewhere, in an article titled “Midcareer Melancholy,” sociologists Joya Misra and Jennifer Lundquist point out the structural conditions that make associate professorship feel especially soul-crushing to those who had imagined a euphoric, happily ever after post-tenure and promotion.  As they describe the academic profession, assistant professors are protected from service work while some full professors shirk it.  These generate overwork among associate professors, whose ranks have been decimated by the adjunctification of the academy and the depletion of tenure-track lines.  Associate professors are acutely aware of how much of their daily work is neither valued nor counted towards their bid to advance to the next step of full:

Associate professors may be frustrated by the immediate demands of service work that materialize upon earning tenure when it is almost exclusively their scholarship that earns them promotion in the long run.

On our campus, we heard these sentiments repeatedly: “There’s a contradiction between the pressure for service at the associate level and the devaluing of service for promotion to full”; “In reality, only research matters when it comes to… promotion, but service and teaching require lots of time”; “The criteria for promotion is research. Associate professors have time for everything but research.” Another referred to associate professorship as “the midcareer service gully that we find ourselves taking an extended stay in.”

Misra and Lundquist offer the following adjustments to address the midcareer malaise:

  1. Clear guidelines for promotion that align with the institution’s mission. Tenure criteria are often less ambiguous than those for promotion to full professor. A few research institutions have identified alternative pathways to promotion in the form of exceptional service leadership or scholarly teaching.
  2. Mutual mentoring programs and supports such as those developed by the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity that help faculty members focus their work time on the factors that will be evaluated, such as research productivity.
  3. Strategies aimed at lessening service burdens on faculty, such as: more tenure-line faculty hiring, recognizing that relying on adjuncts damages the university broadly, as well as adjunct faculty; course releases for intensive service positions to ensure that they do not derail research agendas; more staff hiring that supports faculty leadership.
  4. Greater departmental transparency in service assignments and teaching loads to reduce inequalities in how less-valued activities are distributed.
  5. Professional development for midcareer faculty on how to run meetings and complete committee work without reinventing the wheel.
  6. Standardized policies that regularly assess promotion timing rather than forcing candidates to self-nominate or wait to be nominated by a superior.

 

 

Written by katherinechen

January 18, 2017 at 5:13 pm

forum on data analytics and inclusivity, part 1

Data analytics is a buzzword in the business world these days. One of the industries in which data analytics has made the biggest impact is sports. The publication of Moneyball in 2003 signaled a sea change in how baseball teams used data and statistics to make personnel changes. Basketball wasn’t far behind in implementing advanced statistics in the front office. The MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference has become a hub of industry activity, attracting academics, journalists, and sports insiders.

In general, data analytics has been celebrated as a more enlightened way to approach sports management. But it was only a matter of time before sports analytics got some backlash. The most recent criticism comes from the respected sports journalist, Michael Wilbon, who wrote a piece for The Undefeated about how data analytics has fallen on deaf ears in the African American community.

Log onto any mainstream website or media outlet (certainly any program within the ESPN empire) and 30 seconds cannot pass without extreme statistical analysis, which didn’t exist 20 years ago, hijacking the conversation. But not in “BlackWorld,” where never is heard an advanced analytical word. Not in urban barbershops. Not in text chains during three-hour games. Not around office water coolers. Not even in pressrooms or locker rooms where black folks who make a living in the industry spend all day and half the night talking about the most intimate details of sports.

Wilbon makes the point that in sports data analytics have become just one more way for the Old Boy Network to reassert their status. Of course, I’ve heard other people make the case that analytics levels the playing field, given that it doesn’t require any sort of credentials to participate and is potentially race- and gender-blind. Other journalists have already criticized Wilbon’s claims and methodology (including this response by Dave Schilling), but it’s undoubtedly true that Wilbon’s point of view is shared by others in sports.

We’re using Wilbon’s essay as an opportunity to have a discussion about data analytics and inclusivity. This is an issue that doesn’t just affect sports. As analytics become more integral to the business world, organizations will use analytics to sort talent in many of the most lucrative jobs. Academia, especially in STEM fields, continually wrestles with questions about inclusivity as well.

I’ve invited a handful of scholars and practitioners in the field of data analytics, many of whom work in the world of sports analytics, to comment on this issue. I’ll post their responses in two parts:  half today and the other set tomorrow. Today’s essays are written by three contributors who all have different takes on how analytics can be used to overcome the problems Wilbon identified in his essay. Brian Mills is a sports economist at the University of Florida. His research applies “economic lessons and quantitative analysis to problems that sport managers face in their everyday decision making.”  Sekou Bermiss is an organizational theorist at the University of Texas McCombs School of Business. He studies the relationships between human capital, reputation, and firm performance. Laura Nelson is currently a postdoc at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. She uses computational methods to analyze organizational histories and changes in the feminist movement. She’s also, like me, a San Francisco Giants fan.

Thanks to all of the contributors. Come back for more commentary later, and please feel free to leave comments below.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by brayden king

June 14, 2016 at 2:06 am

inequality perpetuated via organizations – a view from cultural sociology

Sociologists are increasingly recognizing how  organizations facilitate and perpetuate inequality.  Check out the recently published Socio-Economic Review paper, “What is Missing? Cultural Processes and Causal Pathways to Inequality” by Michèle Lamont, Stefan Beljean, and Matthew Clair.

Building on Weber’s concept of rationalization, the authors argue that organizations’ propensity for standardization and evaluation (along with other processes) contribute to inequalities.  Standardization flattens inputs and outputs, subjecting these to comparisons along narrow dimensions.  In addition, those that conform to standards can receive needed resources, leaving outliers to scrap for the remainders:

Standardization is the process by which individuals, groups and institutions construct ‘uniformities across time and space’ through ‘the generation of agreed-upon rules’ (Timmermans and Epstein, 2010, p. 71). While the process implies intention (‘agreed-upon rules’) on the part of social actors, standardization as a process in everyday life frequently has unintended consequences.  The construction of uniformities becomes habitual and taken for granted once the agreed-upon rules are set in place and codified into institutional and inter-subjective scripts (often formal, albeit sometimes also informal). In its industrial and post-industrial manifestations, the process of standardization is part and parcel of the rationalization and bureaucratization of society (Carruthers and Espeland, 1991; Olshan, 1993; Brunsson and Jacobsson, 2000; Timmermans and Epstein, 2010).

….Moreover, the effects of standardization on inequality are often unintended or indeterminate. Indeed, standards are often implemented with the intent of developing a common benchmark of success or competence and are frequently motivated by positive purposes (e.g. in the case of the adoption of pollution standards or teaching standards). Yet, once institutionalized, standards are often mobilized in the distribution of resources. In this process, in some cases, those who started out with standard relevant resources may be advantaged (Buchmann et al., 2010). In this sense, the consequences of standardization for inequality can be unintentional, indirect and open-ended, as it can exacerbate or abate inequality.Whether they are is an empirical issue to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

One example of this interaction between standardization and social inequality is the use of standards in education as documented by Neckerman (2007). Among other things, her work analyses the rise of standardized and IQ testing in the 1920s in American education and local Chicago education policy. It shows how standardized test scores came to be used to determine admission to Chicago’s best vocational schools, with the goal of imposing more universalist practices. Yet, in reality, the reform resulted in diminished access to the best schooling for the city’s low-income African-American population…. (591-592).

Similarly, evaluation facilitates and legitimates differential treatment of individual persons:

Evaluation is a cultural process that—broadly defined—concerns the negotiation, definition and stabilization of value in social life (Beckert and Musselin, 2013). According to Lamont (2012, p. 206), this process involves several important sub-processes, most importantly categorization (‘determining in which group the entity [. . .] under consideration belongs’) and legitimation (‘recognition by oneself and others of the value of an entity’).

In the empirical literature, we find several examples of how evaluation as a cultural process can contribute to inequality, many of which are drawn from sociological research on hiring, recruiting and promotion in labour markets. The bulk of these studies concern how evaluation practices of organizations favour or discriminate against certain groups of employees (see, e.g. Castilla and Benard, 2010) or applicants (see, e.g. Rivera, 2012). Yet, some scholars also examine evaluation processes in labour markets from a broader perspective, locating evaluation not only in hiring or promotion but also in entire occupational fields.

For instance, Beljean (2013b) studied standards of evaluation in the cultural industry
of stand-up comedy. Drawing on interviews with comedians and their employers as well as ethnographic fieldwork, he finds that even though the work of stand-up comedians is highly uniform in that they all try to make people laugh, there is considerable variation in how comedians are evaluated across different levels of stratification of the comedy industry. Thus, for example, newcomer comedians and star performers are judged against different standards: while the former must be highly adaptable to the taste of different audiences and owners of comedy clubs, the latter are primarily judged by their ability to nurture their fan-base and to sell out shows. Even though this difference does not necessarily translate into more inequality among comedians, it tends to have negative effects on the career prospects of newcomer comedians. Due to mechanisms of cumulative advantage, and because both audiences and bookers tend to be conservative in their judgement, it is easier for more established comedians to maintain their status than for newcomers to build up a reputation. As a result, a few star comedians get to enjoy a disproportionally large share of fame and monetary rewards, while a large majority of comedians remain anonymous and marginalized. (593)

Those looking for ways to curb inequality will not find immediate answers in this article.  The authors do not offer remedies for how organizations can combat such unintended consequences, or even, have its members become more self-aware of these tendencies.   Yet, we know from other research that organizations have attempted different measures to minimize bias.  For example, during the 1970s and 1980s, orchestras turned to “blind” auditions to reduce gender bias when considering musicians for hire.  Some have even muffled the floor to prevent judges from hearing the click of heels that might give away the gender of those auditioning.

ORCHESTRAL REPERTOIRE WORKSHOP: MOCK AUDITION

An example of a blind audition, courtesy of Colorado Springs Philharmonic.

In any case, have a look at the article’s accompanying discussion forum, where fellow scholars Douglas S. Massey, Leslie McCall, Donald Tomaskovic-Devey, Dustin Avent-Holt, Philippe Monin, Bernard Forgues, and Tao Wang weigh in with their own essays.

 

 

stratification in the sharing economy: how oreo truffles snuff out egalitarianism

Several writing group colleagues and I were discussing one participant’s extended conference abstract about “prefigurative” groups that have an impact upon society.  The author contended that for a variety of reasons – in particular, pressures exerted by the state, most groups are unable to exact larger change.   Another colleague suggested looking at studies of the sharing economy, which some might see as a contemporary version of the 1960s-1970s collectivist-democratic organizations.

Yesterday, I stumbled upon one study of the sharing economy published in Poetics.   This comparative study examines 4 different cases of groups with egalitarian missions.

“Paradoxes of openness and distinction in the sharing economy”

Abstract

This paper studies four sites from the sharing economy to analyze how class and other forms of inequality operate within this type of economic arrangement. On the basis of interviews and participant observation at a time bank, a food swap, a makerspace and an open-access education site we find considerable evidence of distinguishing practices and the deployment of cultural capital, as understood by Bourdieusian theory. We augment Bourdieu with concepts from relational economic sociology, particularly Zelizer’s “circuits of commerce” and “good matches,” to show how inequality is reproduced within micro-level interactions. We find that the prevalence of distinguishing practices can undermine the relations of exchange and create difficulty completing trades. This results in an inconsistency, which we call the “paradox of openness and distinction,” between actual practice and the sharing economy’s widely articulated goals of openness and equity.

The authors show how class-based stratification can inhibit heterogeneous membership and exchanges, especially when members refuse to make exchanges with persons of lower class. In the time bank, some participants donated their time without drawing back time.  They also preferred to  volunteer skills that they didn’t use in the workplace, declining to offer desired legal and programming expertise.

The food swapping collective, which arose out of the founders’ desire to decrease food waste among single professionals, is particularly fascinating for its participants’ designation of acceptable vs. unacceptable homemade offerings:

The policing of the circuit’s boundaries was particularly clear at one December swap, a charity cookie exchange that drew more than 90 participants—nearly all of them first timers. One regular pointed out that someone had made Betty Crocker cookies and admitted it on their information sheet. ‘‘I know it’s for charity,’’ one swapper remarked, ‘‘but they clearly don’t understand what a swap means for us.’’ One week, a regular participant, noticing Oreo truffles on offer asked, ‘‘Now, are the truffles actually made of Oreo cookies?’’ ‘‘Yeah,’’ the new would-be swapper enthusiastically answered, pleased with his re-articulation of a store-bought product into an innovative form. ‘‘Oh, well then I won’t be able to trade with you, because I can only trade for, like, really homemade things. Like made from scratch, with no preservatives or chemicals or anything, because my friend doesn’t eat any processed foods. She only eats homemade things, that she makes completely herself.’’ These examples show the ways specific evaluative criteria are mobilized to circumscribe the extent to which new participants can enter the circuits of exchange within the swap.

Oreotruffles

One sharing economy’s bane: Oreo truffles.  Photo credit: Kraft.

One regular participant said that she would trade with first timers who did not understand what counted as homemade. However, she would always give them tips after trading with them. If they came back and still did not get it, she would not trade with them again and was not afraid to reject face-to-face offers. Often, new participants who lacked the cultural capital to navigate the food swap environment would leave having made only one trade or a few trades, going home with the vast majority of the food they brought. Such negotiations maintained the values of the swap by drawing on seemingly contradictory notions of ‘‘homemade’’ and ‘‘using up leftovers’’ to delimit participation within the swapping circuit…..

In the food swap, failed matches were rampant. Participants policed choice of ingredients, packaging, volume of offerings, what swappers made, and how they dressed. To make a good match, participants had to intuit multiple criteria which were
highly opaque, often arbitrary, and shifting. We found a fine line between leftovers that were transformed into something exotic, versus food that was just ‘‘left over.’’ Another matching failure occurred when people re-used ordinary jars rather than
the currently faddish, branded canning jars that served as instruments of symbolic class decontamination. The most successful matches happened among purveyors of authentic homemade foods that exhibited no class contamination. In this site, charity
trades also occurred: people would give their foods to others and take nothing in return, or take foods that they then did not use. On one occasion, a swapper was observed giving items she had accumulated to a homeless person as she left the swap.

Such research suggests that such sharing economies may be doomed to one-time, never-to-be-repeated exchanges when participants fixated on the parity (or potential status-enhancement) of possible exchanges.   While other participants attempted to form community by making exchanges as a matter of practice or as a means of socializing newcomers, it seems these exchanges are not enough to sustain these collectives.

Written by katherinechen

February 18, 2016 at 10:06 pm