The organizational sociology of higher education is having a moment. Elizabeth Armstrong and Johanna Massé have written about it recently (and even more recently here), Michael Kirst and Mitchell Stevens have a new volume out on the topic (I’ll be writing more on that soon), and Amy Binder, whose work is very organizational, is chair of ASA’s generally strat-heavy Education Section.
Maybe it’s because there are so many changes going on in higher education right now that simply can’t be understood without thinking about organizations and the fields they are located within. From the Wisconsin budget cuts, to the effects of proliferating rankings, to the internationalization of universities, to the impact of organizational culture on student experience, tons of organizational questions are begging for answers.
Anyway, I’m editing a volume of Research in the Sociology of Organizations on “The University Under Pressure” with Catherine Paradeise, to be published in January 2016. We’ve got some great contributions from a trans-Atlantic group of authors including Dick Scott, Georg Krücken, Philippe Laredo, Christine Musselin, Amy Binder, Daniel Kleinman, Joe Hermanowicz, and others. And while the volume has mostly come together already, one free slot has opened up.
So if you have a paper in the works that you think makes a contribution to the organizational sociology of higher ed, send it my way. There’s some focus on comparing the U.S. and European experiences, but many of the articles look at a single country. And despite the title, it doesn’t have to be about universities: writing about community colleges from an organizational angle? Great.
The catch is that it needs to be either written already or ready for review quite soon — say, within the next month. On the plus side, if it’s accepted, you can expect it to be in print within the year. (And if it’s not, you’ll know quite soon.)
Just about all of us care about the future of the university. It’s time for organizational sociologists to do a better job of helping us understand it.
When people look at PhD programs, they usually base their judgment on the fame of its scholars or the placement of graduates. Fair enough, but any seasoned social scientist will tell you that is a very imperfect way to judge an institution. Why? Performance is often related to resources. In other words, you should expect the wealthiest universities to hire away the best scholars and provide the best environment for training.
Thus, we have a null model for judging PhD program (nothing correlates with success) and a reasonable baseline model (success correlates with money). According to the baseline, PhD program ranks should roughly follow measures of financial resources, like endowments. Thus, the top Ivy League schools should all have elite (top 5) programs in any field in which they choose to compete, anything less is severe under performance. Similarly, for a research school with a modest endowment to have a top program (say Rutgers in philosophy) is wild over performance.
According to this wiki on university endowments, the top ten wealthiest institutions are Harvard, Texas (whole system), Yale, Stanford, MIT, Texas A&M (whole system), Northwestern, Michigan, and Penn. This matches roughly with what you’d expect, except that Texas and Texas A&M are top flight engineering and medicine but much weaker in arts and sciences (compared to their endowment rank). This is why I remain impressed with my colleagues at Indiana sociology. Our system wide endowment is ranked #46 but our soc programs hovers in that 10-15 range. We’re pulling our weight.
From Public Collectors:
This collection grew out of a fortuitous encounter with Guy Debord, the leader of the Internationale Situationniste. Oneday in late 2001, as I recall it, I stumbled upon a small volume with a most intriguing title: La Société du Spectacle(the Society of the Spectacle). The front cover, which featured a yellowed map of the world, also piqued my curiosity. What could this book possibly be about? Hoping for some clarification, I turned to the back cover (what the French call quatrième de couverture). Its content could be translated as follows: “Throughout his life, and in the way in which he took his own life, Guy Debord (1931-1994) followed only one rule. He summarizes this very rule in his Foreword to the Third French Edition of the Society of the Spectacle: ‘It is necessary to read this book with the idea in mind that it was intentionally written to harm spectacular society. There was never anything outrageous, however, about what it had to say.’ ”
Influenced by Ludwig Feuerbach, Guy Debord posits that, “in modern societies… everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation.” In a sense, the opening sentence of the Society of the Spectacle (Paris: Buchet-Chastel, 1967)sums up the French theorist’s view of the world. According to Debord, alienation does not lie in workers’ lack of agency (as Marx believed) but – and this is a gross simplification – in the fact that, in modern societies, social interactions are mediated by images.
Having read much of Debord’s works, I then turned to the writings of Internationale Situationniste members. In the meantime, I also developed an appetite for scholarship on Guy Debord, and the Internationale Situationniste, as well as for Situationist-inspired movements of the late 1960s onwards. My collection grew from this appreciation of theInternationale Situationniste and its ideas.
Debord insisted that his written works be made available to all free of charge. By sharing my own collection of Situationist and Situationist-influenced material, both via my blog (www.situationnisteblog.wordpress.com) and here on Public Collectors, I hope to play a (very) small part in fulfilling Debord’s legacy and that of the Internationale Situationniste.
A colleague emailed me to ask whether I thought hiring a PR specialist would be helpful for getting the word out about a forthcoming university press book. While a university press will send books to venues at the author’s request and place ads in academic venues like the Chronicle of Higher Ed, the author may consider doing more, usually using his/her own resources. Looking at the book publicist’s webpage, buying this person’s services would mean access to radio talk shows.
Based on conversations with book authors over the years, I know that opinions vary about how much effort authors should expend to publicize their work:
At one end, one colleague thought that the “work should stand on its own.” While it’s possible that an audience will flock to an unpublicized book, not doing anything to announce the arrival of a book could effectively consign years of work to the remainders shelf of a bookstore basement or warehouse.
At another end, a few colleagues might go on the radio talk show circuit, give talks at universities, book stores, and other venues, do interviews with high profile magazines (possibly in exchange for a pricy ad placed), and have ads on public transit stations. The trade-off here is emotional energy expended and the opportunity cost of working on other projects, spending time with family/friends, etc.
For my book, I adopted a middle route:
– made a webpage
– joined facebook
– made postcards of the book cover and handed these out to colleagues at ASA and Burning Man attendees
– bought books (at author’s discount) to gift and share
– asked colleagues at universities to order the book for their libraries (note: this was during the financial meltdown, so some libraries were unable to order)
– said yes to invitations to give talks for classes
– guest-blogged on orgtheory and other venues
– did “author meets critics” sessions at regional association meetings
Colleagues have also noted that depending on a professional association’s rules, authors can self-nominate books for section or professional association awards.
So, orgtheory readers, soliciting your experiences and thoughts here:
What’s the sweet spot?
Is it worth a couple $K to hire someone to do publicity?
What tangibles and intangibles does an author get with this extra effort?
Please do share in the comments.
I am often asked, why do I relentlessly criticize obscure theory yet find a place in my heart for Foucault? The answer is simple. I judge rhetoric separately than intellectual content. I think it is possible, and often helpful, to separate how an idea is discussed from the idea itself. How do I do it? Simple – take some tangly-talk and then translate it into the simplest language possible. If the idea is still interesting after decontamination, I give a thumbs up. If I get a platitude, or worse, thumbs down.
So let’s get back to Foucault. What happens if we drop Foucault in solvent? I’d say that some of Foucault’s biggest insights are:
- Discipline and Punish: Western society has moved from punishing people through physical force to having people regulate themselves.
- History of Sexuality: Sexuality varies greatly over time and is more diverse than people expect. Then, people created a science to make sexuality intelligible to intellectuals.
- Archaeology of Knowledge/The Order of Things: There is an order, or structure, to how people understand things and we can see that through a close reading of intellectuals of various eras.
These hypotheses can be debated, but, at the very least, they are hypotheses that make sense and can be assessed. There are hypothesis which are falsifiable (e.g., maybe Foucault’s description of the history of corporal punishment is simply wrong). My beef with much theory is that when you translate and simplify, you either get platitudes, obvious points, extremely wrong points, or a modest point dressed up in confusing verbiage.
Grants, grants, grants. Every academic likes getting them. And every administrator wants more of them. In some fields, you can’t be an active researcher without them. In all fields, the search for grants grows ever more competitive.
PLOS recently published the results of a survey of the grant-writing process in the U.S. Drawing on a nonrandom sample of astronomers and social & personality psychologists, and asking about their applications to NASA (astronomers), NIH (psychologists), and NSF (both), they reported their researchers having applied for four grants in the past four years, on average, and received one. Proposals took an average of 116 hours to write.
While respondents did note some non-pecuniary benefits to grant-writing, comments suggested that many researchers simply gave up after repeated failures, judging it a poor use of their time. In the words of one respondent:
I applied for grants from the NSF in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007….Most of the reasons given for not funding were that funds were too tight that particular year and that I should reapply the next year since the proposal had merit…I finally just gave up.
The authors, who start with the certainly-debatable-but-not-totally-baseless assumption that funding is fairly random (see these cites), make some rough calculations to come to the conclusion that when the funding rate is at 20%, half of grant applicants will be forced to abandon their efforts after three failed attempts, with a rate of more like 2/3 for previously unfunded researchers.
Now, this is a limited study and there is plenty of room to argue about the data it uses and the assumptions it makes. But few would disagree with its conclusion: “20% funding rates impose a substantial opportunity cost on researchers by wasting a large fraction of the available research time for at least half of our scientists, reducing national scientific output.”
And 20% is the good scenario these days. The National Institute on Aging, one of NIH’s major funders of sociology research, recently announced paylines at the 7th (for under-$500k grants) and 4th (for over-$500k grants) percentiles. That’s incredibly competitive.
Yet at the same time, universities, desperate for revenues, are pushing harder and harder for researchers to bring in grants, with those sweet, sweet indirect costs. I know mine is. When I arrived at SUNY Albany seven years ago, I was happy that the university seemed to treat grants as a bonus—something nice to have, not something required by them. This was a contrast with at least one other place I interviewed.
But that’s less the case now. I won’t go into details here. But suffice it to say that the pressure on the department to bring in grants is steady and increasing. And while this may not be happening everywhere, it’s certainly common, particularly at cash-strapped public universities. It’s even worse, of course, in the soft-money parts of higher ed, like med schools.
The thing is, it’s simply not a viable strategy. Unless the pool of grant funding is massively increased at the federal level—a remote possibility—this is a zero-sum game. And so we’re left with what is basically a variation on the tragedy of the commons problem. Rational individuals (or individuals responding to their employers’ rational demands) will write more grant applications, since doing so still probably increases one’s chances of being funded. And if everyone else is working harder and harder to secure grant funding, maintaining constant effort will likely result in a decreasing payoff.
But what a collective waste of resources. The PLOS article cites research suggesting that university faculty spend an average of 10.7 (public universities) to 14.5 (private universities) hours per week on research during the semester. Even assuming grant-writers are finding somewhat more time for research, grant-writing still takes half a semester’s research time or so. Yes, there’s some intellectual benefit to the grant-writing process. But probably not so much to writing multiple unfunded grants.
My modest proposal is to cap the number of applications—either at the individual level, or the institutional level. Or perhaps establish a lottery for the right to submit in a given round. I can think of disadvantages to that—why should the best (or at least most fundable) researchers not be able to apply as often as they want? But the goal here isn’t to share the wealth—it’s to waste less of our collective time.
In the meanwhile, the ever-growing pressure for external funding in an environment of flat-at-best resources is itself throwing money out the window. At a time of intense pressure to do more with less, this is the biggest irony of all.
A few weeks ago, President Obama spoke eloquently about the Civil Rights movement. He reminded us of the struggle for freedom in this country. The separation Blacks and Whites represented an insult to humanity, a violation of morality that simply could not stand.
Today, we are faced with another immoral policy – the wall that separates men and women of different nations. Whether it be an iron curtain, an electric fence, or a border post, the restriction of peaceful movement between countries is a moral and economic disaster. It separates families, it inhibits trade, and prevents people from helping themselves.
On this day, Open Borders Day, I call on President Obama to tear down this wall. Tear down this wall that makes us deport the parents of young children. Tear down this wall that makes us force human beings back into holes of hideous poverty. Tear down this wall that makes us ship our brothers and sisters like cattle into the slaughterhouses of despotic nations.
Mr. President, the Civil Rights movement taught us an eternal lesson – walls are bad. Let us take that lesson to the present. What we do to the men and women of Mexico, or Nigeria, or Sweden, is no less immoral than what we did to African Americans. Let it stop today.
Tear down these walls. Open borders now. Open borders forever.