Let’s not throw out all “merit” because of the “Admissions-Bribery Scandal”

My goodness, people have gotten very excited about the “Admissions-Bribery Scandal” that’s involved eight universities and 45 or so kids of very very rich (and frankly not very smart) parents. Frank Bruni finds it both galling and not surprising. John Warner says its a reason to eliminate all “competition” within higher education. Many many folks on Twitter and Social Media are using this story an example of how all college admissions is a crock and based entirely on how much money you have, it’s all corrupt, burn it all down, etc., etc.

As a thought experiment, I thought I’d contemplate some ways in which merit and admission to college in this country isn’t completely broken.

  • Access to education at any level has never been universally fair, and people who are wealthy have always had better access to education. I’m not just talking in the U.S. and I’m not just talking about the last 20 or 50 years. I mean it has never been fair anywhere, it has been that way for thousands of years, and it has been that way everywhere. Sure, there is better access to higher education in some other places in the world, notably European countries with a Democratic-Socialist tradition of funding education as a societal good. Though it is also worth pointing out that in most of these countries, students are “tracked” into a path that leads to either trade school or university in the American equivalent of high school. There isn’t much of a tradition in these places of community colleges or open admission universities.
  • I’m not saying this inequity is justified (it’s not) and I’m not saying we should do what we can to eliminate it (we should). I’m just saying it’s not at all new. The rich have always gotten richer. And as long as we’re talking about access and inequity issues relative to history: don’t forget that 100 years ago in this country, lots and lots of public universities in this country did not admit women or people of color.
  • The details of this particular scandal are pretty gross. The details about the daughter of Lori “Aunt Becky” Laughlin are particularly icky. Olivia Jade doesn’t seem particularly interested in being in college,  though she does seem to like to hang out on a yacht in the Bahamas with one of her friends who happens to be the child of a billionaire who happens to be chair of USC’s Board of Trustees.
  • But paradoxically, the fact that this small group of super rich people (about 50) felt compelled to break the law to get to get their kids (about 45 total) into some selective universities is evidence that the admissions systems mostly works. This is the exception that proves the rule.
  • Let’s also not forget that there are few “selective” institutions in this country. That’s what makes them “selective,” and thus not the way that most of higher education works. In his excellent book A Perfect Mess, David Labaree says of the 4700 or so institutions that count as “higher education” in this country, there are only 191 that are “selective” to the point where they accept less than half of the students that apply. So again, the eight universities involved in this scandal (and more specifically the rogue-operating people at these places and especially the University of Southern California) are outliers.
  • I cannot imagine any scenario where anyone would pay a bribe of any amount to get into EMU, but let’s think for a moment about the idea of rich people giving huge donations to get rich kids into the right college. Let’s take the example of Jared Kushner’s father paying Harvard $2.5 million to let him in. On the one hand, that’s unethical, slimy, and maybe not illegal but still wrong. Especially when we’re talking about a place like Harvard, this is just the rich getting richer. But at least that donation to the university does end up benefiting other students, at least indirectly. And I have to say: if someone offered to donate $1 million to EMU on the condition that all of their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren were automatically admitted to the university, I sure hope we’d take that deal.
  • But yes, people who have resources have a significant advantage in accessing higher education, and that problem is made all the more acute in this country with the dumb way we fund K-12 schooling, mostly with local property taxes. I do not think this is fair either, and it is also why real estate in communities that are known for its good schools costs more– and vice versa. It’s also probably the easiest and most common way for families with modest means to improve the chances for their children to get into a good college: move to a town with good public schools.
  • I live in Ypsilanti, a town with so-so public schools. For reasons too complicated to go into here, my wife and I sent our only child to an expensive private school in Ann Arbor. We did this because education (not surprisingly) is a high priority for us, and we were fortunate/lucky enough to be able to afford it (barely) because of our jobs, because of some help from our families, and because we only have one child. I do feel a tinge of guilt once in a while regarding this decision, but besides the fact that it has turned out well, I don’t think it is at all unreasonable for any parent to try to do the best they can for their children’s education– as long as it’s legal.
  • This kind of access to private schooling was new to me (I went to some Catholic grade schools but mostly public schools), and it revealed a lot about how even a modest amount of wealth can dramatically change the game. The private school we sent our child to had shockingly small classes, highly professional faculty, a progressive curriculum not bogged down by an overemphasis on testing, and extra-curricular experiences for all students regardless of abilities. This school carefully groomed students for elite higher education from sixth grade on, and by the time actually applying to college rolls around, the level of support in terms of writing entrance essays, taking exams, contemplating different schools, meeting with recruiters– it’s all a completely different world.
  • I also saw the extreme anxiety these affluent parents had about making sure their kids got into an elite college. I’ll never forget this event my wife and I went to for parents of kids who would be applying to college the following year. It was a “Q&A” session put on by the college admissions advisors. Among other things, they talked about the need for test prep, for working carefully through those essays, about strategies for taking the SAT multiple times, and about how it was important to apply to eight to twelve schools to get admitted to the right one. All of these rich and super-earnest parents were just so tense, and I just sat there thinking of my own experience of taking the ACT once and applying to exactly one state university which didn’t require anything beyond a simple application. Like I said, a different world.
  • Which, to circle back to this specific cheating scandal, makes this situation all the more bizarre and what I still do not understand. With all of the advantages these rich people have, why did they have to so brazenly break the law to get their kids into modestly elite colleges? I’ve heard the argument before that folks like Lori Laughlin didn’t know any better because she didn’t go to college herself. I don’t believe that at all, but besides that, most of the parents involved with this were business executives, and I presume most of those people had college degrees. Or maybe they cheated their way into college in a similar fashion?
  • Last but not least: if universities eliminated measures of merit as a way of deciding who to admit– that is get rid of all test scores, grades, application essays, whatever else– how would universities decide? We should continue to strive to make the process more fair of course, but shouldn’t the process be based at least in part on merit in the form of grades, test scores, extracurriculars, etc.?

#4C19 Conference Prelude/Presentation

Here’s a link to my upcoming presentation at the Conference for College Composition and Communication, “Performing the Role of ‘Teacher’ in Online Writing Courses (or It’s All About Affordances).” It’s online at http://bit.ly/Krause4C19

I made this slideshow version for two related reasons. First, since I’m presenting as part of an 8:00 AM on Friday panel– a time slot with 45 sessions, many featuring folks who I would personally like to hear talk– I am kind of assuming it’s going to be an “intimate” gathering. Second, this is my solution to the accessibility challenge: anyone who needs to/wants to read this should be able to access this Google Slides show.

We’ll see how the conference goes.

Recipe: Mediterranean (-ish) Fish Stew/Soup

 

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Mediterranean-ish fish stew.

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Ingredients:

  • Olive oil
  • Four ounces or so smoked pork chorizo sausage (basically one link from a four-pack of sausages)
  • One small fennel bulb, diced (about 2/3rds of a cup)
  • One small onion, diced (about 2/3rds of a cup)
  • Two cloves garlic, minced
  • Half a cup of white wine
  • One 14 ounce can of diced tomatoes
  • One 12 ounce bottle of clam juice
  • Teaspoon of dried thyme
  • Half a cup to a cup of vegetable stock, fish stock, or water (optional)
  • 12 ounces of firm white fish like cod
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Juice of about half a lemon (plus wedges for garnish)
  • Half a cup of chopped Italian parsley

This is a simple stew/soup that is largely based on a recipe from an America’s Test Kitchen “cooking for two” magazine/recipe collection. I’m a fan of America’s Test Kitchen shows and cook books. The recipes are simple, interestingly written, and (unlike so many cook books) they “work.”

An interesting tangent here I learned in Googling America’s Test Kitchen: I wasn’t quite sure what the deal was with Christopher Kimball who used to be the face/host of the PBS show, until he showed up on Milk Street. I guess I had kind of assumed that Milk Street was a spin-off of the America’s Test Kitchen series since they are basically the same show but with different hosts. Little did I know that the split between Kimball and his former employer was an ugly one where ATK argues Kimball ripped off the whole concept for his own show (and magazine and cookbooks and web site). Hard to argue with that. There is what I believe is an ongoing lawsuit about all this.  Go figure.

Anyway, there’s obviously a lot of variations to this kind of stew/soup. I have cooked similar recipes with a lot more vegetables (and no sausage) and different flavor profiles, everything from a more spicy/Creole vibe to Asian. I don’t know if this is “Mediterranean” so much as vaguely Portuguese or Spanish, but whatever. I wouldn’t recommend omitting the sausage (chicken chorizo would probably be okay) because that’s what gives this soup/stew its unique flavor; so if sausage/meat isn’t your thing, I’d suggest a different recipe, or I try messing with this one with different spices. Clam juice was a new ingredient to me for this recipe– and honestly, I was suspicious because it sounds kind of gross to use the juice that clams were soaking in– but it does add just a hint of pleasant ocean fishiness to the finished dish. I use cod, but I can easily imagine other kinds of fish and/or shrimp. Note this recipe serves two, or provides one person leftovers the next day. I am certain it could be doubled or tripled with no serious problems. Last but not least, I think of this as a stew/soup because I prefer it a little more on the “soup-side” of things– which is why the addition of stock or water is optional.

Steps:

  • Use a large enough and heavy-bottomed pot to cook this– I use a small Dutch oven. Heat up a few tablespoons of olive oil and sauté the diced chorizo, onion, and fennel for five or ten minutes until it’s softened and a bit browned. I find this is a lot easier to do if you have everything cut up ahead of time before you get started.  For the chorizo, I just use the garden-variety links available nowadays at most grocery stores– pre-cooked and smoked. Dicing up a fennel bulb for the first time can be a little tricky, but basically, you want to core the bulb and cut off all the top stuff. Martha Stewart has a nice demo video of how to do this here.
  •  Taste and add some salt and pepper.
  • Add the minced garlic and cook for another 2 or 3 minutes, stirring constantly.
  • Stir in the half a cup of wine, scraping the bottom of the pan to get any of those good tasty bits in there.
  • Stir in the tomatoes, clam juice, and thyme, and taste it again, adjusting the salt and pepper to your tastes. Bring it up to a simmer. If you want it more soup-like, add more stock or water; if you want it more stew-like, add just enough stock or water so it doesn’t dry out.
  • Cook the base/broth 15 or so minutes. This is also a great “make ahead” kind of dish because you can do all of this up to this point, turn it off, and just leave it covered on the stove for an hour or so until you’re ready for the seafood.
  • While the soup cooks, dice up the fish and chop the parsley. Also, the lemon: juice half of it and cut up the other half into wedges to serve with the stew/soup.
  • When everyone is ready to eat, add the lemon juice from the half a lemon, half the parsley, and the diced fish. Give it all a stir and cook for about 10 or 12 minutes on medium-low heat. It doesn’t take much to cook fish in a broth like this and you don’t want to overdue it.
  • Serve with parsley to garnish and lemon wedges on the side. A simple salad and nice crusty bread is a good side, too.

Actually, Higher Ed is Not That Similar to the Newspaper Industry

This week’s Chronicle of Higher Education weekly feature “The Edge,” usually written by Goldie Blumenstyk but this time written by Scott Carlson, is about the “warnings” higher education should heed from what happened with the journalism business. It’s called “What Higher Ed Can Learn From the Newspaper Industry.” Carlson writes:

Newspapers are generally for-profit enterprises; colleges in most cases are not. But the parallels between journalism and academe are striking: We both deal in knowledge and have public service at our core. We have legacy institutions (Harvard, The New York Times) and upstarts (Coursera, Vice Media). Smart, intractable, and often underpaid people — professors and reporters — form the foundation of our industries, taking complex or specialized information and breaking it down for an audience. For many of those people, their academic or journalistic professions are all they ever imagined doing with their lives. To watch their industries crumble is a source of great heartache.

That first point– for-profit versus not-for-profit– is an important difference between journalism and higher ed that unfortunately gets left behind in the rest of the essay. But there are of course other important comparisons. Both journalists and professors tend to think of their mission as a “higher calling” and one that doesn’t necessarily square with everyone else’s views on the purposes of journalism or higher ed. Quoting Jeremy Littau, an associate professor of journalism at Lehigh University, Carlson writes academics think of themselves as discovering and distributing knowledge, when people just want the credential and a job. “We pin our value,” Littau says, “on things that I don’t think the audience is thinking about.” Carlson also cites a CHE report on “Mega Universities” (tl;dr yet)– places like Southern New Hampshire, Liberty University, and Arizona State University– which threaten traditional universities as their enrollments grow to 100,000 or so students, mostly because of aggressive marketing and robust online programs. And so forth.

This is all something I touch on in my book More Than A Moment: Contextualizing the Past, Present, and Future of Massive Open Online Courses, which will (crossing fingers) come out from Utah State University Press in the fall. I think part of what Carlson and (indirectly) Littau is talking about is true. The higher ed “business” is definitely going through a rough time that is comparable to the rough times in journalism and mass media generally. Technology is changing the way both education and journalism are “delivered,” and colleges and universities– particularly the less prestigious ones like EMU– need to innovate in terms of delivery and programs to keep the doors open.  But for me, that’s about where the comparison ends.

I think there were two things that permanently transformed journalism, neither of which has a clear comparison to what’s going on in higher ed. First off, there’s Craig’s List, which I do not think gets enough credit (or blame) for disrupting one of the main sources of income for newspapers, the classifieds. Newspapers– particularly local ones– made a tremendous amount of money from classified ads back in the day. All of those $20 or so a week ads for selling your car or renting an apartment added up. Second, the rapid rise of social media, Google news, and similar forums dramatically changed the way people found, read, and expected to receive news for free.

But beyond that, there are a number of ways in which the “business”/institution of higher ed is quite different from journalism. These are things that I talk about in more detail in the book in relation to MOOCs, but I think it applies to the comparison to journalism as well.

First off, while content “scales,” education and assessment do not– at least not all the time, and not well enough. Certainly higher education has A LOT of content– research, textbooks, tests, writing assignments, etc. But if education was primarily about “delivering” “content” to an interested audience, then the need for schooling– particularly in higher education– would have started its decline with the development of literacy. The real value of higher education comes from the interaction between students and teachers (face to face or online), the assessment of students and their work by experts, and the credentialing of those courses which lead to a recognized college degree. That credential matters a lot. I think Littau is right in that too often, faculty think that our value is the abstract life of the mind, in “discovering and distributing knowledge.” Nonetheless, even if this is what faculty tend to favor and emphasize, we all know students wouldn’t come to universities for the life of the mind and knowledge alone. They certainly wouldn’t pay for it if the credential wasn’t worth something.

Second, I think people who make this comparison to journalism (or who thought MOOCs were going to take down institutional higher education) underestimate the depth and breadth of higher education. In my book, I quote David Labaree (who quotes someone else) about a claim that there are around 85 institutions in the western world  established by 1520 that continue to exist in similar (albeit evolved) ways today. These institutions include the Roman Catholic Church, a few parliaments, and about 70 universities. All of the top 25 universities in the world (as ranked by Times Higher Education) are at least 100 years old, and many much older– Oxford and Cambridge were founded around 1200, Harvard 1636, and comparable “new kids” Stanford and Cal Tech in the 1890s. Lots of universities in the U.S. were founded in the 1800s, including the one where I teach. So why, if higher education is so bad at innovating and if it is an industry “ripe” for disruption or failure, why are so many universities so old?

And then there’s the breadth issue. There are around 4,700 institutions of higher learning in the US– especially if you include all the proprietary schools, cosmetology schools, and the like. That’s almost four times as many newspapers as are published now, and it’s probably more than were published in the 1940s, before the rise of TV and then the Internet.

Third, while most people seeking news don’t like to pay for it, almost all would-be college students (and their families) are more than willing to pay. In the book, I go into some detail about how the cost of attendance has never been the deciding factor new students cite for why they decided to attend a particular college. While COA has always mattered and it matters more now to students than it did in my generation, students still value the quality of the institution and the success of an institution’s graduates more. This is why MOOC providers could not interest traditional undergraduates in taking their courses: even when the costs of taking a MOOC for transferable college credit is dramatically less than taking a course at a more traditional community college or college or university, students didn’t take the MOOC courses in part because the credential wasn’t “worth it.”

Which brings me to my last point for now: as is still the case with MOOCs, the students interested in attending these “mega universities” and other online providers are not the same as the ones interested in attending more traditional colleges and universities. Rather, most (probably a majority) of the students attending places like Southern New Hampshire or Liberty are older students who are coming back to finish their bachelors degree, or they’re starting college later in life, or they’re people who already have an undergraduate degree and they’re now seeking an additional credential or certification. And again, there has always been a lot of “non-traditional” students seeking education or training outside of “traditional” and institutionalized higher education. In the 1920s and 30s, when correspondence schools started to take off in a major way, there were many many more students enrolled in those courses than there were enrolled in institutional higher ed, and a lot of those students were the same kind of non-traditional student interested in MOOCs and online mega-universities now.

The threat of MOOCs disrupting higher education as we know it has largely passed, but more people are enrolled in MOOCs in 2019 than there were at the height of the “year of the MOOC” in 2012. I quote Cathy Davidson’s claim that in 2016, Coursera alone had 25 million students start at least one course on its platform, which is about four million more students enrolled in traditional colleges and universities in the US. My point is the threats to higher education that Carlson and others have identified are not at all new and not actually “threats.”

Don’t get me wrong– there are definite problems in higher education. As has been the case in the U.S. for at least the last 150 years, there will be institutions that will struggle and that will close or merge with others. Regional and opportunity-granting universities– like the one where I work– will continue to face a lot of challenges, things like even further reduced public funding and falling enrollment. Higher education will continue to change. What it means to “go to college” in the 22nd century is likely to be quite different– much in the same way that going to college in the 19th century was quite different from it is now.

But no, higher education is not as similar to the newspaper business. It certainly isn’t as similar as many journalists like to believe.

 

I should do this more in my own blogging…

From the “By the Book” interviewer with writer/blogger Maria Popova:

Do your blog posts grow out of whatever you happen to be reading at the time? Or do you pick books specifically with Brain Pickings in mind?

I don’t see my website as a separate entity or any sort of media outlet — it is the record and reflection of my inner life, my discourse with ideas and questions through literature, my extended marginalia. It is a “blog” in the proper sense — a “web log,” part commonplace book and part ledger of a life. Nothing on it is composed for an audience. I write about what I read, and I read to process what I dwell in, mentally and emotionally. The wondrous thing about being human — the beauty and banality of it — is that we all tend to dwell in the same handful of elemental struggles, joys and sorrows, which is why a book one person writes may help another process her own life a century later, and why a “blog” by a solitary stranger may speak to many other solitary dwellers across time and space.

Recipe: Salmon and Lentils (w/bonus leftover lentils)

 

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Ingredients:

  • About two cups of dried lentils (preferably French green ones)
  • One big carrot, diced
  • One small onion, diced
  • One medium-ish potato, peeled and diced
  • Two or so cloves of garlic
  • At least a tablespoon Herbes de Provence seasoning
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Two to four portions of salmon filet cooked how you prefer, about six to eight ounces per person (This amount of lentils would work well for four servings, or with enough leftover lentils to repurpose for a side dish, soup, etc.)
  • Lemon wedges, plus parsley to garnish

I’m not likely to ever open a restaurant, but if I did, it’d probably be some kind of riff on a “French bistro,” and if I did open Cafe La Steve, I’d probably have this dish on the menu. I can’t say I remember ever seeing this on a menu in a restaurant– French or otherwise– but it does feel like a good French bistro recipe to me.

This is a pretty basic approach, one based on the recipe in Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything, which is kind of my “go to” cook book for finding basic recipes for, well, everything. You could definitely jazz up the lentils with some bacon or maybe chicken stock or some more fresh herbs or what have you. I keep it simple both because it then is a weeknight (when you have a little extra time) kind of meal, and also because it’s easier to repurpose the leftover lentils into different forms.

Steps:

  • Put the lentils into a Dutch oven or other large heavy pot, cover with water, bring to a boil, and cook them for 15-20 minutes, just until they are starting to soften. If you’re pretty quick about dicing up the vegetables, you can do that while the lentils cook. If you are slower (like me) about dicing vegetables and/or you’re trying to do more than one thing at a time in the kitchen (also like me), it’s probably a little less stressful and easier to dice the vegetables before you cook the lentils. Use your judgement on that.
  • After the lentils have cooked a while, set up a fine mesh strainer in the sink and carefully drain your hot lentils into this strainer. Rinse off the lentils and rinse out the pot. I should point out that this step is (probably) unnecessary and I’ve never seen it described in a cook book, but I do it this way because it makes the final version seem less “muddy” to me. I don’t know if that makes sense or not; so try this step if you want, or just skip it.
  • If you don’t drain the lentils, then just add the vegetables into the pot, and make sure there is enough water to cover. If you do drain the lentils, add a little olive oil to the bottom of the now drained and rinsed out pot and sauté the vegetables with a little salt and pepper for a few minutes, just to get them beginning to soften, stirring pretty much the whole time. If they are sticking a bit to the bottom, add a little water and stir to unstick them from the pot. Put the drained lentils back into the pot and add enough water to cover.
  • Stir in a heaping tablespoon of Herbes de Provence. I just use a mix I always have on hand– it’s a very handy seasoning– but if you don’t have that, you can just add some thyme, maybe a little rosemary, that sort of thing. There’s a lot of lentils there, so you can be aggressive with the amount of herbs you put in.
  • Cook the lentils and vegetables on medium heat, allowing them to just barely simmer and reduce to a thick consistency but without letting them dry out completely. Check on them and stir the pot about every five minutes or so. This takes around 20 minutes.
  • While that’s going on, this is a good time to slice a lemon into wedges (and get rid of the seeds) and chop up a bit of parsley.
  • When the lentils are almost done, taste them and add more salt and pepper as you see fit. I usually turn the pot down very low and then prepare the salmon. You could also easily do this ahead of time (up to several days ahead if you put the lentils in the fridge) and simply reheat the lentils and vegetables when ready to eat.
  • As far as the salmon goes: you can kind of cook that however you want. You could take your salmon filets– a bit of salt and pepper on top, with the skin still on– and put them skin-side down in a hot non-stick pan with just a bit of oil, allowing the skin to crisp up and the fat to render, and then flip them over to brown a bit and to finish cooking to your liking. I don’t do this because Annette doesn’t like the crispy fish skin and also because this kind of makes a splattering mess on the stove. So instead, I usually turn on the broiler and set up the oven rack so it’s not too close to the heat. Then  I put the seasoned salmon on a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil (it just makes it a lot easier to clean), and then put the salmon under the broiler for just a few minutes, until the skin is crispy. Then I take them out, peel off the skin and discard it, flip over the salmon, maybe add a little olive oil to the top of the filet, and put it back in until the top of the salmon is just beginning to brown. This whole process takes maybe 10 minutes.
  • Plate by ladling a nice pile of lentils and vegetables in a nice shallow bowl, place a piece of salmon on top of those lentils, garnish with lemon wedges and parsley, and eat.

Bonus leftover lentils!

Inevitably, this recipe provides me with leftover lentils, which is actually a very good thing. I’m not much of a leftovers kind of person, but I think these leftover lentils are quite good. I’ll sometimes just heat them up in the microwave as a kind of “side dish” to a sandwich or something like that. Usually though, I’ll make them into soup simply by adding however many lentils I want with broth, either vegetable or chicken, and if I want to get really “fancy,” I’ll cook up a slice of bacon, cut that up, and add the crispy pieces to the soup.

The “Grievance Studies” Hoax and the IRB Process

From Inside Higher Ed comes “Blowback Against a Hoax.” The “hoax” in question happened last fall, and it was described in a very long read on the web site Areo, “Academic Grievance Studies and the Corruption of Scholarship.” In the nutshell, three academics created some clearly ridiculous articles and sent them to a variety of journals to see if they could be published. Their results garnered a lot of MSM attention (I think there were articles in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times). And, judging from a quick glance at the shared Google Drive folder for this project,  it is very clear that the authors (James A. Lindsay, Peter Boghossian, and Helen Pluckrose) were trying to “expose” and (I’d argue) humiliate the academics that they believe are publishing or not publishing kinds of scholarship because of “political correctness.”

Well, now Boghossian (who is an assistant professor at Portland State) is in trouble with that institution because he didn’t follow the rules for dealing with human subjects, aka IRB (Institutional Review Board) approval.

Read the article of course, but I’d also recommend watching the video the group posted as a defense to this on January 5. I think it says a lot about the problem here– and, IMO, Boghossian and his colleagues do not exactly look like they knew what they were doing:


(I posted what follows here– more or less– as a comment on the article which might or might not show up there, but I thought I’d copy and paste it here too):

It’s a fascinating problem and one I’m not quite sure what to do with. On the one hand, I think the Sokal 2.0 folks engaged in a project designed to expose some of the problems with academic publishing, a real and important topic for sure. On the other hand, they did it in way that was kind of jerky and also in a way that was designed to embarrass and humiliate editors and reviewers for these journals.

The video that accompanies this article is definitely worth watching, and to me it reveals that these people knew very VERY little about IRB protocols. Now, I’m not an expert on all the twists and turns of IRB, but I do teach a graduate-level course in composition and rhetoric research methods (I’m teaching it this semester), I’m “certified” to conduct human subject research, I teach my students how to be certified, I regularly interact with the person who is in charge of IRB process, and I also have gone through the process with a number of my own projects. In my field, the usual goal is to be “exempt” from IRB oversight: in other words, the usual process in my field is to fill out the paperwork and explain to the IRB people “hey, we’re doing this harmless thing but it involves people and we might not be able to get consent, is that okay” and for their response to be “sure, you can do that.”

So the first mistake these people made was they didn’t bother to tell their local IRB, I presume because these researchers had never done this kind of thing before, and, given their academic backgrounds, they probably didn’t know a whole lot about what does or doesn’t fall under IRB. After all, the three folks who did this stuff have backgrounds in math, philosophy, and “late medieval/early modern religious writing by and about women,” not exactly fields where learning about IRB and the rules for human subjects is a part of graduate training.

If these folks had followed the rules, I have no idea what the Portland State IRB would have said about this study. The whole situation will make for an interesting topic of discussion in the research methods course I’m teaching this term and a really interesting topic of discussion for when the local director of IRB visits class. But I do know three things:

  • It is possible to put together an IRB approved study where you don’t have to get participant approval if you explain why it wouldn’t be possible to get participant approval and/or where the risk to participants is minimal.
  • If you put together a study where you purposefully deceive subjects (like sending editors and reviewers fake scholarship trying to get them to publish it), then that study is going to be supervised by the IRB board. And if that study potentially embarrasses or humiliates its subjects and thus cause them harm (which, as far as I can tell from what I’ve read, was actually the point of this project), then there’s a good chance the IRB folks would not allow that project to continue.
  • Saying something along the lines of “We didn’t involve the IRB process because they probably wouldn’t have approved anyway” (as they more or less say in this video, actually) is not an acceptable excuse.

I don’t think Boghossian should lose his job. But I do think he should apologize and, if I was in a position of power at Portland State, I’d insist that he go through the IRB training for faculty on that campus.

The beginning of my basement gardening experiment

 

First of all, no, it is not weed. Though it’s now legal in Michigan to do so, I have no interest in growing marijuana. And besides, if I was actually interested in growing marijuana, do you think I’d be posting about it online? C’mon now….

No, this is my effort at a DIY indoor LED garden for herbs and such. Here’s the deal:

I usually buy a rosemary bush/tree in the spring because it’ll live just fine all the way into fall and with not a lot of care. The problem/challenge is it’s too cold in southeast Michigan for rosemary to live through the winter. In the past, I’ve tried covering it up under one of those styrofoam insulators that are for roses and I put a potted version in the garage a couple years ago. Neither approach worked. When it started getting too cold this year (and I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of this before), I put my potted rosemary in the basement and didn’t think about it much. It got at least a little sunlight through a tiny window for some of the day, and I managed to remember to water it once in a while too. It wasn’t exactly “thriving,” but it wasn’t dying either.

A couple months ago, I stumbled across an article about the growing (no pun intended) business of indoor farming thanks in part to advances in LED lighting, and that got me to thinking about helping out my little rosemary bush and beyond. I took a look on amazon both to find out how much these lights cost and also to find any sort of book/advice on indoor gardening. The price for the lights are all over the map, and I didn’t find any useful books. So, deciding to just wing it and I bought a couple of 50 watt LED grow bulbs. I stuck one bulb in an old clamp-on utility light shade-thing-a-ma-bob, clamped it on to something, and turned it on once in a while for my rosemary. Lo and behold, it started growing and bending toward that light.

So I decided over winter break to go a little more “all-in,” and that’s what’s in my Instagram photos. Besides that rosemary bush, I am trying to keep alive the Norfolk Pine we got as a stand-in for a Christmas tree– another plant that I’ve had a hard time keeping alive after the holidays in the past. I bought a storage tub, the kind of thing designed for clothes and to be kept under the bed, and filled that up with just normal potting soil. In that trough of dirt I’ve planted seeds for butter lettuce, arugula, basil, dill, cilantro, and parsley.

I have no idea if this is going to work. I’m kind of pessimistic about the seedlings, frankly. But what I think probably will work is to grow some herbs this summer in pots and then take them down to the basement in the winter, things like thyme and chives and tarragon and what-not.

Just how offended are you by the word…

… motherfucker?

I ask because of the dust-up over Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib’s statement about Trump that is in the news, “we’re going to impeach the motherfucker.”

To back up a step: here’s a link to an article and with a five minute or so video of the event. I think this was a Move On sponsored thing and it looks like it was in some kind of bar/party room filled with supporters. It was a fiery speech all about how her progressive and activist campaign worked, and how that strategy worked for other progressive candidates– notably many women and/or POC. It looks to me like everyone in the crowd had a cell phone recording the speech in one hand and a beer in the other. It was a private party. There was ton of cheering and whooping it up and she closed with that line “we’re going to impeach the motherfucker.”

This matters. A LOT. It’s not like Tlaib was on the floor of the house or on Meet the Press or whatever and said “we’re going to impeach the motherfucker.” And the sentence that is getting all the attention now wasn’t even the first time she said “fuck” in that five minutes.

As far as the politics go, I am in the same camp as Nancy Pelosi and the more moderate leadership in the House: it’s not time to call for impeachment and while Pelosi said she wouldn’t have made that choice in words, she’s not going to get into the censorship business. But Tlaib is not the first member of congress to say Trump should be impeached now, and, as I heard Tlaib say on the news the other night (this is a local story because her district is parts of Detroit, Wayne county, and “downriver”), fighting for impeachment was a campaign promise. So it makes sense that Tlaib would bring up that campaign issue/promise at a party celebrating being sworn in.

Anyway, while I do not like the phrase “clutch their pearls,” I cannot think of a more accurate metaphor in the reaction to this. Never mind Fox news; This tweet from The Washington Post called Tlaib’s choice of “motherfucker” a “slur,” though the article to which it links is all about civility and the moral problems of vulgarities. The moderately liberal Detroit Free Press (well, compared to the Detroit News) published a Mitch Albom screed/editorial where he condescendingly laments Tlaib’s sinking into a “new low in a cesspool of human relations we call politics,” she is merely sinking to Trump’s lows etc. My stars, I do declare!

All of which brings me back to my original question: just how offended are you by the word “motherfucker?” I’ll take Albom at his word and agree he is personally offended at the use of such salty language. This isn’t surprising since  Albom has made his nut from schmaltzy feel-good books (Tuesdays with Morrie, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Have a Little Faith, etc.) which end up as Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movies.

Of course, I also have to think that Albom and others wouldn’t have had any real reaction to the vulgarity at all if it had been uttered at a similar campaign event by a 60-something Republican white dude.  But I’ll just leave that right there.

I mean, I take it as a given that the kinds of conservatives who think Trump is doing a great job and who think liberals are evil and anyone non-Christian is suspicious object to Tlaib calling Trump a “motherfucker,” but these people probably would have been just as upset had she called him a poopy-head. But beyond that, I have to wonder how much of this is kind of generational, kind of a lack of familiarity with a certain strand of contemporary culture.

Take some of the movies I like, for example.

I probably watch The Big Lebowski three or four times a year. It’s a movie that is both comfortingly familiar and still full of surprises, and it’s the kind of thing Annette and I will sometimes put on as “background viewing,” something on the TV while we are each putzing around on our laptops doing other things (writing a blog post, for example). In The Big Lebowski, there is some variation of word “fuck” 260 times, at least according to Wikipedia.

Also according to Wikipedia: that 260 different fucks doesn’t even put The Big Lebowski in the top 25 of the most fucks in a movie (though I don’t know how accurate this list is, and who has the time to count all those fucks?) Interestingly, there are a lot movies on this list of 135 different titles that I’ve seen and liked a great deal– The Wolf of Wall Street, Casino, Goodfellas, Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, True Romance, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Superbad, Monster, Bad Santa, Sorry to Bother You, etc., etc.

I mean, don’t get me wrong: for Tlaib to call Trump a “motherfucker” was insulting. But I don’t know, it sure seems like the Alboms of the world think that calling someone a motherfucker (at the end of a rally-styled speech in a bar full of supporters– don’t forget the context, folks) is a whole lot worse than I do. Maybe I watch too many movies with bad words in them. Maybe Albom et al don’t watch enough of these movies.

First (perhaps only) prediction of 2019: the return/rise of blogs

You read it here first (hopefully): I think 2019 is going to bring a resurgence (well, “return” or “rise” or “comeback” might be better words) of blogging. I freely admit this is not based on evidence. It’s a hope, a gut feeling, and/or a wild-assed guess. But a lack of evidence has never stopped me before from predicting things, so there’s no reason for me to stop now.

Predicting the comeback of blogging is in part a New Year’s resolution for me to blog more, a bit of wishful thinking. I keep resolving and hoping to start working on writing projects that have nothing to do with academia– or if they do have to do with my day job, they are more commentaries on the state of things, like this piece I write last year— and blogging is a good place to try to draft and play with some of those ideas.

I’ve been thinking about this for a month or so now after reading this piece by Matt “Community College Dean” Reed, and John Warner’s follow-up. Reed is right in that blogging (certainly in academia, and I am guessing in other careers as well) has it’s problems. “[S]ome people prefer to hire folks who don’t have paper trails. I’ll just leave that there” is true, and I am guessing there are opportunities I’ve missed because of something I have posted online. I have never had any delusions about being able to “make money” from blogging, so in the sense that the first rule of writing professionally is never do it for free, this is probably a waste of time.

On the other hand, most of the most valuable experiences I’ve had in academia as a writer and scholar connect to blogging. Writing here about MOOCs was why I got invited to speak about MOOCs at some cool conferences here and in Italy, why I was able to co-edit a reasonably successful collection of essays about MOOCs, and ultimately why I have a book coming out this year (knocking on wooden things) about MOOCs. My “greatest hit” of academic publishing (take both “greatest” and “hit” with a significant grain of salt) is still “When blogging goes bad,” an article that obviously wouldn’t have been possible without, well, blogging.

So there are very good reasons to try to go back to blogging more. Warner pointed out that the “freedom” to write what you want on a blog is the kind of freedom where you have nothing left to lose, and that is certainly the case for me. I mean, at this point of my life/career, I’m pretty much stuck situated at EMU– unless something strange and unforeseen happens, which, as the last couple of years in the Trump era et al have demonstrated time and time again, I suppose is unpredictably possible. All of which is to say that unless I write/do something quite foolish (also unpredictably possible, of course), I don’t see anything but an upside for me blogging.

But I think it goes beyond just me.

Social media feels kind of tippy-pointish to me right now. I increasingly have friends who have either opted out of social media entirely or who are now a lot more careful about how they dose on it. I cannot go two or three days without stumbling across some kind of article about the evilness of Facebook, and there is absolutely no reason to believe that is going to change anytime soon.

I’m kind of hoping for a blogging comeback sort of like what’s going on with vinyl records or independent bookstores. Yes, the vast majority of us are still listening to music on our devices and not that old-timey turntable. (Slight tangent: this might also be the year where I see if that old turntable in the basement still works). Yes, most of us are still buying a lot of our books from Amazon– if we’re buying and reading books at all. (Another slight tangent: I really ought to read more non-work books this coming year). But with the collapse of the big-box stores and a customer return/preference for actual print books, independent stores are proving to be modestly sustainable.

So yeah, it’s a niche. Maybe a small one. But hey, small worlds are still worlds.