Hillary’s challenge last night was to articulate her case for why she should be the President. For me that means articulating her governing philosophy. So far — and this includes last night — she has not really done that. She has built her case almost entirely in opposition to Trump. She is right to do so of course. Trump cannot be allowed to occupy the White House. And her safest course to victory may be simply to assert that the alternative is too frightening to contemplate.
Maybe that will be enough. But I actually hold to the idea that the winning candidate for President is always the one who has a clearer view of the challenges and opportunities facing the country and articulates a viable roadmap for how to navigate them. Despite the fact that he is a clown, I am convinced that if Trump wins it will not be because people are blindly enamored of his celebrity but because they are persuaded by the governing philosophy that many of my friends on the left refuse to acknowledge he has. He has one. And so I don’t think it is enough to paint him as a mad man. His ideas need to be taken seriously and countered.
Do you enjoy this blog? Why don’t you write a post for us? For the last couple of years, we’ve had a policy of accepting submissions from readers. It’s simple. If you want to discuss a social science issue, or an issue related to the academic profession, send us a post. We won’t repeat recent conversations and we won’t tolerate uncivil discourse, but we’ll take most other stuff. Send your sociological, economic, political, anthropological, and academicological thoughts! Send us self-promotion of articles and books! Join the fun!
One of the nice things about summer is getting to read stuff you don’t have to read. Matt Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City was excellent, and deserves the great deal of attention it received. The sociology is largely implicit, but it is absolutely there, and Desmond paints a compelling portrait of flawed but comprehensible individuals caught in a web of exploitative institutions from which it is very, very hard to escape.
But you know the good stuff is always in the footnotes, right? And my favorite footnote is not about Lamar, the neighborhood father figure whose legs froze off when, high on crack, he passed out in an abandoned house; or Lorraine, who tries to find a little joy in her otherwise grinding poverty by spending her food stamps on lobster.
According to Google Scholar, there are more than 4,800 scholarly articles and books in which the phrase “Moving to Opportunity” appears in the text. This neighborhood relocation initiative designed to move families out of disadvantaged neighborhoods was a bold and important program—which served roughly 4,600 households. In other words, by now every family who benefited from Moving to Opportunity could have their own study in which their program was mentioned.
Ouch. Point very much taken.
After completing a Ph.D., how to get a tenure-track position, secure tenure, and advance to full and beyond are not clear, particularly since multiple layers of bureaucracy (committees, department, division, school, and university board) have a say over candidates’ cases. Despite written policies specifying criteria and process for tenure and promotion, universities can interpret these policies in ways that advance or push out qualified candidates. Over at feministwire, Vilna Bashi Treitler shares her experiences with the tenure process at one university, where unofficial teaching evaluations were apparently used to justify a tenure vote:
In my case, I was unable to defend myself when someone at my tenure hearing read verbatim from RateMyProfessor.com, a popular website where anyone can write anything about any professor in the country. The review reported me for “abandoning” my class. My colleagues discussed my case without reference to the medical emergency that pulled me from class: I lay, pregnant and bleeding, on doctor’s ordered bed rest, trying to save my baby. My colleagues failed to consider the testimonies of graduate students who taught the four class sessions that remained in the semester – at my own expense – or the fact that my website showed evidence that classes continued (with the aid of graduate students) and I distributed handouts online, despite my forced absence.
Perhaps most frustrating, it did not appear to matter to my colleagues that I had several peer-reviewed articles published in top journals, a book already published with a top-tier university press, a grant from the National Science Foundation for a new project, and mostly good reviews from students up until that time. This happened 10 years ago, and despite the opposition, I survived and succeeded in the academy. However, I never stopped facing challenges from white students who – despite signing up for my course, which at no time was ever a requirement – resist what I have to teach them, and in some cases, treat me with open disrespect.
Having served with Vilna on a committee overseeing dissertation proposals at the Graduate Center, CUNY and spending time with her discussing pedagogy, I can attest that she is very invested in students’ learning, no matter how difficult the topic. In sociology and related disciplines, we teach and discuss complex topics – inequality, discrimination, and the various –isms – that can challenge or even threaten people’s worldviews. The individualistic emphasis in the US makes it especially difficult to convey alternative ways of thinking.
Vilna’s post includes several recommendations for the academy. In particular, she urges colleagues who have power to act on behalf of those who do not:
We must stand behind the promises we made to young faculty when we hired them: if you produce high quality scholarship, we will award you the tenure you need to continue conducting cutting edge research. Any scholar who makes the grade with notable and widely accepted peer-reviewed scholarship should not have their fates sealed in closed-door processes with little transparency or overt accountability where the complaints of a relatively tiny number of students – of course, students have never published research or taught courses themselves – are given undue weight. (Of course, bad teaching should not be rewarded, but we have other ways to assess teaching, including examining syllabi, having faculty regularly observed by peer scholars, and creating and encouraging the use of teaching centers where new scholar-teachers can seek aid in improving their classroom skills.)
Faculty who serve on committees that make these decisions know when injustice is being committed, and the time is now to take a stand. Standing up to proceedings that negate principles of both academic freedom and honor among colleagues and that allow racism and sexism to decide who is a quality scholar is risky and requires courage, but is nevertheless necessary. It is difficult to ask questions aloud about what’s not happening when a colleague looks like they’re being railroaded. If you stand up, you effectively become a whistleblower, for which there might be retaliation – but if you’re tenured, that’s exactly what tenure is for: protection from punishment for following through on ideas that may be unpopular. So when the tide turns against a junior colleague in your department or university, the difficult but morally right thing to do would be to take a bold step to stand up and at minimum question why.
And standing up takes many forms. When the conversation turns towards student complaints about a professor, inform your colleagues that student evaluations have gender and race biases (see here, and here, too). Find out if the professor has good evaluations that are being ignored or downplayed. Ask whether colleagues are overlooking other evidence of good teaching, like positive peer observations, or syllabi chock full of information about assignments, how grades are determined, and classroom policies. Professors who stand up must ask about the rest of the scholarly record: are we talking about the teaching of a highly productive scholar who has a publishing record and is a good departmental and college/university citizen? Maybe you should ask whether those things should matter more than evaluations – especially if you know this is what junior faculty are told when informed of the requirements for tenure.
Standing up also looks like administrators who overturn or challenge insufficiently explained tenure denials for stellar candidate records, being mindful of institutional commitments to inclusion and diversity. In addition, professors who become aware that injustice is occurring should reach out to administrators and encourage them to do the right thing.
Vilna’s insightful post includes links to several other scholars’ tenure denial experiences in the academy, as well as additional recommendations on working with students.
Over at National Review, I’ve seen some puzzling articles about Gary Johnson, the libertarian candidate for president. First, there was an article that argued that Johnson was not truly libertarian. This strikes me as odd since politicians, especially successful ones like Johnson, are usually pragmatists, not college professors and it is strange for a conservative magazine to judge who is libertarian enough. Second, there was an article urging Johnson to court the right. This is also odd in that, aside from taxes and gun rights, libertarians have opposite beliefs from conservatives on issues ranging from migration, war, and cultural issues. These aren’t small differences. They’re YUGE.
Ultimately, though, libertarians should not court the right for practical and moral reasons. In practical terms, the libertarian-conservative alliance has been a complete failure. When libertarian candidates run for office within the GOP, they rarely get any support. In the last three presidential primaries, we’ve seen libertarian candidates run in the GOP and they have all failed miserably. Simply put, Republican voters have consistently rejected libertarians at almost every opportunity.
There is also policy. Except for the economic deregulation of the late 70s and early 80s, the conservative movement has sided against libertarians. Conservatives have supported nearly every single war in decades, they have sided with the expansion of police powers, they have sided with the war on drugs, they have stood for deportations of non-violent migrants, they have sided against women, minorities, and queer people when they have asked for civility and enforcement of rights, and they have sided with the massive expansion of the surveillance state after 9/11. How these stances emerge from a deep respect for individual people is beyond my ken. Whatever has been gained by the alliance of conservatives and libertarian is so paltry in stature that it requires a magnifying lens to observe.
Does this mean that libertarians should flock to liberals or the Democratic party? I don’t think so. One could easily write an equally long article about the incompatible aspects of modern liberalism. Libertarians, for example, are comfortable with wealth that is earned through the production of value, while liberals see economic inequality as inherently unfair or corrosive.
Instead, I suggest that libertarians approach politics through openness and bridge building. First, libertarians should stand their ground just as much as liberals or conservatives, but be open to interacting and cooperating with all manner of people. Not only is it smart for a movement that is a very small numerical minority, it is also consistent with the view that freedom of speech, diversity, and respect for others is part of the libertarian ethos. Second, libertarians should be a bridge. There are many issues where libertarians can maintain integrity while bringing things together instead of contributing to a polarized political environment. For example, libertarians can be part of the conversation on police powers that draws together concerned people on the left and right. In the end, what I want is a movement that makes the world a better place. That will happen with engagement and civility, not partisanship or pandering.
Last week, we discussed “The Suffocation Model” by Finkel et al, suggested by Chris Martin. Before Finkel at al., we had two posts on Tanya Golash-Boza’s article on race theory in sociology. Next month, we will discuss “Racism and discrimination versus advantage and favoritism: Bias for versus bias against” by Nancy DiTomaso, which appeared in Research in Organizational Behavior 2015. This article was suggested by Dan Hirschman.
The purpose of the “article discussion” series is to highlight articles that don’t appear in the leading journals. If you want the blog to shine some light on an article, or working paper, just put it in the comments or send me a message. The only rule is that it can’t be from an “A” journal like ASR/AJS/SF/SP or even a highly visible specialty journal. Thanks for reading.