Tag: academia

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I had an anxiety dream the other night  – mine are always about the start of new semester.  Usually I don’t have the syllabus done, or I’m being randomly told to teach a class I know nothing about or some such.  This one was a little different. In the dream, I had two classes. I […]

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Stop the Funeral Dirges for Academic Rigor, Please

 

I admit to being a hopelessly disorganized individual, and working in a cluttered corner “office” in my home. The “logical (to me) chaos” of my workspace right now says something meaningful about the state of academic rigor today, thanks to a couple of completely coincidental items. On my desk there is a pile of paper that represents the first 50 or so pages of a nearly 500-page manuscript, and an iPad with a somewhat related book in my Kindle queue waiting for me to complete.

The book is The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters, by Tom Nichols, and the manuscript is on a theory of “political Darwinism.” They are definitely polar opposites on just about any scale one would like to use to compare them, which makes them remarkably similar. Nichols is pointing out how society — particularly America — has shifted to a point where all experts are considered untrustworthy. The author of the manuscript is showing how the shifting trends in politics are actually following a fairly logical evolutionary process that needs a severe interruption if we prize freedom at all. The similarity between them lies in both their serious tones of warning against the track our society is following now, and their extreme attention to detail in an academic sense. The other item of note about them is that the book is authored by someone who is generally conservative, and the manuscript’s author is essentially a libertarian.

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I work in the belly of the progressive beast: I’m a tenured history professor at a state university. That’s right, not just academia, but the humanities even. The horror. It’s so easy to find stories about professors – especially humanities and social science professors – running amok and engaging in all kinds of activism that ranges […]

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Snakes on a Plane – Academics vs the TSA, round n+1

 

The airport security line has ground to a standstill. Again. Some bozo packed a giant plastic penis in his carry-on, and of course the bozos working for the TSA couldn’t resist. From the depths of the man’s carry-on, one TSA worker unsheathes “this mouse penis by its base, like it was Excalibur.” Yep. A Gigantic. Plastic. Mouse. Penis. 3-D printed.

If it makes you feel any better, it’s for science. The biologist carrying it is on his way to a two-day conference, and so has no checked luggage. Other times, scientists carry on stuff that can’t go into the cargo hold even when they’re checking luggage. Permits issued to biologists to collect live specimens may stipulate the specimens must be hand-carried onto planes. Other live specimens simply don’t travel well in cargo holds. A duffel bag full of ants. Live frogs in Tupperware containers. Roaches. These things:

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Two academics, Peter Boghossian and James Lindsey, published, under false names, a supposedly peer-reviewed essay on “The conceptual penis as a social construct,” arguing that  [a]natomical penises may exist, but as pre-operative transgendered women also have anatomical penises, the penis vis-à-vis maleness is an incoherent construct. We argue that the conceptual penis is better understood […]

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Saying “No” to Wasting Precious, God-given Time

 

There’s a little-covered kerfuffle happening over at Duke University’s Divinity School. Rod Dreher, over at his blog on the American Conservative, is performing his usual insightful and careful coverage of the matter. Faculty member Paul Griffiths had enough of the usual diversity drivel that is the mainstay at academic, and, for that matter, most commercial institutions.

It started when fellow faculty member Portier-Young circulated a boiler-plate memo to the Divinity faculty, urging their participation in a “Racial Equity Institute Phase I Training” session. Professor Griffiths, politely, but firmly, urged his fellow faculty; “I exhort you not to attend this training. Don’t lay waste your time by doing so. It’ll be, I predict with confidence, intellectually flaccid: there’ll be bromides, clichés, and amen-corner rah-rahs in plenty.”

Amen, professor, amen.

How to Make America’s Elites More Responsible

 

Reading about Hollywood’s posturing poseurs delivering their goods at the Oscars (who can stand to watch this event?), as they ooze with self-righteousness and narcissism, triggers a pesky thought that no doubt erupts in the minds of countless normal people. That is, none of those luminaries strutting across the stage are affected by events or ideas targeted by their feverishly stroked, ego-driven drivel. Thus, the question arises, what if they were? More than that, what if America’s elites in the entertainment industry, political realm, media complexes, and academic institutions were forced to suffer the consequences of the views they hold, the policies they force on the rest of us? This tantalizing hypothetical is worth a thought experiment or two.

Let’s start with Obamacare, which many pundits on the right predict will collapse, implode, or turn into a pumpkin at midnight. Whatever. But nothing in Washington happens by itself; no policy ever self-destructs; it takes the political equivalent of plastic explosives piled as high as a skyscraper to make something happen. Unless, of course, Obamacare suddenly (and inexplicably) were applied to members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, their staffs, and everyone else on a government payroll. Then, before you could say “Affordable Healthcare,” Obama’s signature legislation would vanish overnight. And to the devil with the two trillion or so beneficiaries who would lose their coverage, according to the CBSO, the Congressional … um … Office. In short, forcing the lawmakers to obey their own laws would do wonders to clarify minds and speed up lethargic congressional processes.

Next, academic La La Land is desperately in need of a kind of intellectual Drano to clean out decades of misanthropic sediment that inevitably finds its way into elitist mental habits outside the academy. Try this for starters: every professor who has published a great deal should be required to relinquish authorship of at least half of his/her publications to those who have published nothing at all. Enthusiasts for income redistribution need to understand how ripping off producers to benefit those who contribute nothing works in an endeavor that they hold dear. Again, mental clarification is the goal.

Drain the Real Swamp: Academia

 

Suppose for the past half century or so you’ve been forced to pay the Acme Swamp Company to engorge all lakes, caverns, rivers, streams, and puddles with effluents, along with enough reptiles to put Jurassic Park to shame. Then, after you’ve discovered that the Acme Company has also supplied Wile E. Coyote with Roadrunner-catching equipment since the Truman Administration, you decide to “drain the swamp.” And then—surprise! surprise! —you’re devastated to learn that the swamp you tried to drain simply filled up again from tributaries that cannot be shut off. And you’ve been paying for those tributaries, too, for a long, long time. In fact, you’ve discovered that these streams are not only exorbitantly pricey, but frequently destructive, parasitic, and virtually impregnable. Question is, what can you do?

The “swamp” in question of course is Washington DC, but also includes much of the bureaucracy, judiciary, and cultural command posts of the country, such as the media and entertainment industries. The tributaries comprise America’s educational system, long dominated by the radical left and protected by tenure and union power. It is this ideological effluent center that has done so much to poison the discourse of American politics, smearing every institution that contributed to the country’s greatness, and radiating hatred of all things most citizens hold dear—family, patriotism, free enterprise, free speech, freedom of religion, the Bill of Rights generally, and of course America’s founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Certainly, storming the Bastille of Ivory Tower totalitarianism constitutes a very great challenge, beset with tribulations and struggle. But one must start somewhere, so here is a short list that could be considered by State legislatures, as well as by an institution that itself should be abolished—the Federal Department of Education.

Conservatives in Academia: How Bad is it Really?

 

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 8.23.51 AMLately, I’ve been embracing my identity as what my sister calls a “pointy-headed person;” i.e., a nerdy academic type. Rather than relegate intellectual pursuits to my free time, I’m considering trying to get paid for them which means that, barely two years out of school, I’m thinking about going back.

But — worried about how my political perspective might affect my experience in academia, especially since I’m considering going into the very belly of the beast (sociology) — I spent this past week reading through Jon Shields’s and Joshua Dunn’s Passing on the Right: Conservative Professors in the Progressive UniversityAs the title would suggest, the book explores the perspectives of conservative professors, specifically in the humanities and social sciences. Its findings aren’t exactly comforting, but neither are they outright demoralizing.

Unsurprisingly, finding a significant sample of conservative academics was something of a challenge. But, with promises of anonymity and using a snowball strategy of letting a few professors on the Right recommend others, they were able to talk to 153 people for some quantitative and qualitative analysis. They combined both self-identified conservatives and libertarians, though this wasn’t always a comfortable match, as the two groups diverge in some important ways.

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The Very, Very, Very Special Snowflakes of Oberlin University are very, very, very disappointed that their adult caretakers are not treating them with all the special specialness that they are entitled to.  They are angry because the University refused their demands to be paid for protesting, for eliminating all grades below a C, for refusing […]

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If the authority to which he is subject resides in the body corporation, the college, or university, of which the greater part of the other members are, like himself, persons who either are, or ought to be teachers; they are likely to make a common cause, to be all very indulgent to one another, and […]

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I Read the Famous Feminist Glaciology Paper So You Don’t Have To

 

shutterstock_356613728The paper “Glaciers, Gender, and Science: A Feminist Glaciology Framework for Global Environmental Change Research,” referenced recently on Reason and PowerLine, analyzes how we have come to know what we do about glaciers. Apparently, glaciology has been polluted by men who — wielding pick axes and slinging about equations employing tensor notation — “participated in the imperialist, colonial, and capitalist projects associated with polar exploration [and] mountain colonization.” In case you feel slightly confused, please note the authors “use ‘glaciology’ in an encompassing sense that exceeds the immediate scientific meanings of the label,” and do this in order to capture the themes of “power, domination, colonialism, and control – undergirded by and coincident with masculinist ideologies – have shaped glacier-related sciences and knowledges over time.”

We didn’t know this until now because this topic had been “understudied” while the rest of us were preoccupied with, ostensibly, more important things.

The authors assert that “[m]ost existing glaciological research – and hence discourse and discussions about cryospheric change – stems from information produced by men, about men, with manly characteristics.” This is, apparently, bad: somewhere between very, very bad, and the ultimate crux of badness itself. Apparently, knowledge acquisition and even knowledge itself can be “gendered.” When the authors insist that a “critical but overlooked aspect … is the relationship between gender and glaciers,” they’re not just squabbling about whether the French use a masculine or feminine noun for “ice” — it’s feminine, thank heaven — but are identifying an existential threat. However, they do go on to relate that gender is not just a “male/female binary, but as a range of personal and social possibilities” including “power, justice, inequality, and knowledge production in the context of ice, glacier change, and glaciology.” I’m so glad we got that cleared up straightaway.

“When May I Shoot a Student?”

 

shutterstock_195431228As a professor, I have academic colleagues forwarding the panicked reactions to the bills in various states allowing weapons to be legally carried on campus. One passed around this New York Times op-ed with the sarcastically-calm title by an Idaho professor “When May I Shoot a Student?” If students are allowed to carry guns on campus, then this professor wants to know under what circumstances he can legally shoot them.

The assumption is that allowing students to carry weapons on campus creates a novel, dangerous, and unprecedented situation. With the column’s mud-thick sarcasm getting in the way, I can’t tell whether he understands that the law already affirms the right of people to carry firearms when he walks around town. Does he also worry about when he can shoot an armed person on the street?

His claim is that students are specially upset at him — by virtue of being in his class and earning bad grades — so he’s at special risk there.  I’ve had my share of stressed, upset students over the years, so let’s not dismiss this point. But allowing legal carry on campus doesn’t change the situation. The dangerous ones have always been dangerous and a student with murder in his mind isn’t deterred by a campus rule prohibiting weapons.

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The University of Missouri has just announced that Melissa Click, assistant professor of Communications, has been fired for her behavior with police and students in the protests on the Missouri campus last year. I’m really, really, really not a fan of hers.  She epitomizes the worst of academia (and I say this as a professor). […]

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Left-wing academics (is there any other kind?) at Duke University with nothing better to do have conducted a “research study” of Disney movies and determined that they are insufficiently Marxist because they depict the working class proletariat as happy, rather than consumed with rage at their economic inequality relative to the decadent bourgeoisie. The depictions […]

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  Dear Academy Awards – It’s become clear that burdens of acting and filmmaking have an inordinate impact on minorities and women.  Given your unique position in Hollywood, I call on you to institute neither quotas nor set-asides but simply this: when it’s close, the Oscar should go to the minority. In the case of two […]

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The signs of the institutional terminal illness of the American university are increasingly plentiful. The stories out of Missouri and Yale and a half-dozen other places in recent months might be easily dismissed as the grumblings of an entitled generation—and they are that—but something far more insidious is entangled with this “movement.” Preview Open

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The Attack on Grad School Entrance Standards

 

The social justice activists have been making more waves in the sciences recently, such as my field of astronomy. The latest is a push to get rid of the use of standardized test scores (the Physics Graduate Record Exam, or physics GRE) in admission to physics graduate school. (Read the statement by our professional association’s president.) The claim is that the GRE is poorly correlated with success as a research astrophysicist and is more correlated with sex, race, and ethnicity.

Some astronomers have tried to quantify this by doing a study of “successful” astronomers; i.e., those who have received the prestigious postdoctoral research fellowships after grad school. They were able to use 149 responses (55%) out of the 271 questionnaires sent out. The rest didn’t respond or didn’t provide their GRE scores, and the study did not try to account for the biases this introduced.

San Bernardino and the Progressive Temptation

 

TerrorAs evidence about the horrific mass murders in San Bernardino unfolded, and explanations about the killers’ motive devolved to the familiar statement, “we can’t rule out terrorism,” the rest of us shocked by this slaughter wondered why the authorities were so hesitant.

In fact, only 48 hours after the event, we learned quite a bit. For instance, in spite of CNN, MSNBC, and other progressive tripe-peddlers suggesting everything from right-wing terrorism to the triggering effects of a nearby Planned Parenthood, it was clear that this was a premeditated assault carried out by “very religious” Muslims. The wife, Tashfeen Malik, even professed allegiance to ISIS on her Facebook page. As far as motive goes, how about the title of Brigitte Gabriel’s book on the subject: Because They Hate: A Survivor of Islamic Terror Warns America. Isn’t that enough?

Apparently not, according to a witch’s cauldron of MSM pundits frothing at the mouth to blame the whole thing on guns, therefore on the NRA, and therefore and especially on the NRA’s principal supporters in Congress, the Republican Party. And everyone by this point has seen the Daily News headline, which shouts, “GOD ISN’T FIXING THIS,” followed by the subhead, “As latest batch of innocent Americans are left lying in pools of blood, cowards who could truly end gun scourge continue to hide behind meaningless platitudes.” The Daily News followed it today with another blazing headline that grouped Wayne LaPierre with four psychotic mass murderers. The subhead read, “Syed Farook joins long list of murderous psychos enabled by the NRA’s sick gun jihad against America in the name of profit.” Perhaps the most ominous headline was a headline about US Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who vowed to “Prosecute Those Who Use ‘Anti-Muslim’ Speech That ‘Edges Toward Violence.’”