Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Being passed by the Joneses on their way back down

Lee Sigelman, after a typical lament against PowerPoint, takes note of a new data point in the endless debate:

Case in point: At least at one school (SMU), the dean is trying to talk faculty members out of using PowerPoint and to banish computers from the classroom.

Alas, at the other end of the state the “student-centered learning” fad and the promotion of the overly-teched-up classroom, to better pack the students in and delude them—or at least the accreditors—into thinking they’re getting something vaguely akin to a liberal arts education in a 170-student lecture, continues apace.

Monday, 20 July 2009

QotD, I need more "real" pubs edition

From today’s Inside Higher Ed, reporting on a survey of department chairs in The Discipline™:

[T]he survey found that the “scholarship of teaching” ideas of Ernest L. Boyer—in which colleges would see research and publication related to pedagogy or teaching as “counting”—has not been embraced by a majority of departments in any sector, and by relatively few at doctoral institutions. Asked if they agreed that “teaching publications and substantive publications are equal” in tenure reviews evaluating research, only 11 percent of chairs at doctoral universities agreed. (The figures were 32 percent for master’s institutions and 43 percent for bachelor’s institutions).

I guess I’d better get back to that “substantive” paper I’ve been cogitating on…

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

QotD, where are my flying cars? edition

Dean Dad gets to the essence of Mark Taylor’s ramblings about higher education, which seem to have captured the imagination of waaay too many people among the professoriate this week:

“Sorry, kid, we aren’t accepting new students this year. Try again next year, when the theme will be cyborgs and we’ll have all new faculty to teach it.”


[Taylor] moves quickly from ‘insightful’ to ‘crackpot’ and back again.

Honorable mention (put this one in the file of “things I should have said in Friday’s department meeting but didn’t”), courtesy of Brian Griffin:

I would explain, but you won’t care or listen, so there’s no point.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Fault in ourselves and not the stars?

Prompted by the Wisconsin Lutheran story, PTJ at The Duck of Minerva objects to the current state of scholarship in political science:

Once people are hired, they also have to figure out what to assign to their students; for that purpose, they need books and articles. Naturally, people want to assign the current, contemporary research in their field if they can, but not only does that not say much about civic engagement or the future of the political landscape, but it doesn’t even say what it does say in a way that is particularly accessible to undergraduate students. “The Role of Parties’ Past Behavior in Coalition Formation,” to pick just one of the articles from the most recent issue of the American Political Science Review, doesn’t exactly sound like a page-turner. And yes, I know full well that other disciplines also have a dichotomy between their contemporary research and the kinds of things that one assigns to undergraduates, but the gulf is particularly pronounced in contemporary Political Science. (At least Anthropology and Sociology have classics that can be profitably read by undergraduates; once one gets outside of the social sciences, the humanities have works of art and literature, and the natural sciences have textbooks and laboratories.) I remember serving as a TA for an American politics class while in grad school; the professor told a lot of stories about how actual politics worked, but the reading material talked about such scintillating topics as fire-alarms versus trip-wires in governmental oversight regimes. So the students, not surprisingly, ignored the reading and listened to the stories.

I think the students were on the right track. If one wants to actually do much serious thinking about civic life and one’s individual responsibility within it, one would be well-advised to stay as far away from the last several decades of Political Science scholarship as possible. Undergraduate education in politics shouldn’t be about learning how to solve extensive-form games; it should be about learning how government works. But contemporary Political Science isn’t much help to that task. This implies that if we want students to come to articulate their own sense of civic engagement, we ought not send them to the Political Science department, but could achieve the same effect by sending them elsewhere. And to make matters worse, people trained in Political Science probably aren’t likely to know how to facilitate this for undergraduates, which further undermines the need for a Political Science department in a liberal arts college.

Now, I’m not saying that every liberal arts college ought to go around eliminating its Political Science department. (In fact, Political Science departments at most liberal arts colleges I know are actually quite far removed from the mainstream of the discipline; I don’t think this is an accident.) But I am saying that the decision makes a certain amount of sense, since the discipline of Political Science is so far away from the goals of a liberal arts undergraduate education. And that’s too bad—bad for Political Science, not bad for the liberal arts.

Laura at 11D voices her concurrence to this line of thinking. And while it is tempting to agree, I think this is a symptom of a larger problem with political science as a discipline. Nobody, for example, would suggest that a physicist studying muon decay in a particle collider should somehow make his or her research directly relevant to people building nuclear reactors, yet somehow we (or some of we) expect cutting edge political science research to be directly relevant to the average citizen, and if it isn’t then it’s the fault of the research agenda.

I think this results from fundamental confusion about the endeavor of political science: political science is not civics, just as psychology is not Dr. Phil. Yet in “Intro to Psychology” they don’t teach Dr. Phil—they explain the basic findings of psychological research. So why do we teach civics in our introductory courses rather than teaching political science? (And the answer isn’t just “the Texas legislature says we have to,” because in point of fact we could make up 6 hours of anything related to U.S. and Texas government to fulfill the Texas gen ed requirement, yet we all end up doing the same old civics-based crap for the most part.)

To the specific points made by PTJ: yes, there are accessible, “classic” works in political science that can be fruitfully used with undergraduates. I’ve used works such as Key’s Southern Politics, portions of The American Voter, and excerpts from other scholarship from the 1940s-1960s successfully in a number of undergraduate courses. Yes, undergraduates do like “stories” instead of theory… but they prefer that in virtually any discipline. Math students would much rather listen to stories about Newton fleeing Cambridge during a plague rather than learning the calculus he co-derived,* yet I don’t think any serious person would think that the students are right in that circumstance.

Moreover, animating the theory of fire alarms versus police patrols in congressional oversight is part of the responsibility of a professor, and could be easily be tied to real contemporary political concerns (think of the treatment of detainees in the War on Terror, where Congress reacted to dramatic media coverage much more readily than to, say, John Yoo’s memoranda on the topic), just as explicating the whole business going on with the cave is the job of a professor who’s trying to explain Plato. And I dare say the APSR‘s normative theory articles are no more penetrable to the average undergrad than the game-theoretic stuff, so this isn’t an issue of the “teched up” research agenda oft-lamented in the discipline. And, no, I don’t think undergraduates need to “solve extensive-form games” but I think it’s reasonable to expose them (at least at a very simple level) to theories like the median voter model or spatial models of realignment that do explain how “actual politics” works. And, no thanks to the rewards structure of our discipline, there are quite a few good books out there for students that do these things for students at the junior and senior levels.

On the broader question of whether political scientists should be inculcating a sense of civic engagement in students rather than publishing research, I am probably one of those odd ducks who doesn’t think it’s our job to push students to engage in political activity without some evidence that the student is actually interested in doing so. (I think it’s a perfectly legitimate position for a citizen in a liberal democratic republic to not want to have anything to do with politics.) But I realize I’m an outlier in this regard, and there is certainly no lack of research and writing by prominent scholars on youth participation and civic engagement (both Russ Dalton and Martin Wattenberg have books on the topic, and they’re both in the same R-1 department, to say nothing of the whole Putnam coterie) and other “practical politics” concerns, even if it’s not appearing in the contemporary APSR.

* Although modern calculus is more derived from Liebnitz’s approach that Newton’s; Newton’s notation is better reflected in differential equations.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Death of a discipline

Inside Higher Ed reports (as does the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) that Wisconsin Lutheran College has decided to eliminate its political science department and, with it, two apparently-tenured faculty members to better focus on its “liberal arts mission.” I find myself in agreement with the thoughts of Michael Brintnall, executive director of the APSA:

“It would be thought to be a central component of a liberal arts education,” [Brintnall] said. “The subject matter is too central to civic life and understanding where we are going in the world to not offer the content.”

There is an argument to be made that the political dimensions of life can be explored in other social science and humanities disciplines—principally, through history, economics, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, and psychology—but somehow I doubt Wisconsin Lutheran will be devoting the attention those dimensions deserve in a well-rounded education.

Then again, Wisconsin Lutheran may have made the right decision in its current circumstances: according to the Journal Sentinel article, the abolition of political science only affects 5 majors directly. Considering that we had political science majors beating down the doors at Millsaps, which isn’t much bigger than Wisconsin Lutheran, I’m not sure what is going on with that.

þ: John Sides and Steven Taylor.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

QotD, screw ever getting a teaching award edition

The entitlement society marches on:

“I think putting in a lot of effort should merit a high grade,” Mr. [Jason] Greenwood said. “What else is there really than the effort that you put in?”

“If you put in all the effort you have and get a C, what is the point?” he added. “If someone goes to every class and reads every chapter in the book and does everything the teacher asks of them and more, then they should be getting an A like their effort deserves. If your maximum effort can only be average in a teacher’s mind, then something is wrong.”

It will come to no surprise to any observer of contemporary collegiate culture that Mr. Greenwood is a kinesiology major, often a refuge for future gym teachers and meathead football coaches who think the education school’s curriculum is far too challenging. “Doing everything the teacher asks of [you]” isn’t A-worthy; doing everything the teacher asks of you better than most other people do it and achieving mastery thereof is A-worthy. And I say that as someone who has historically been a relatively lenient grader.

Bonus quote:

Sarah Kinn, a junior English major at the University of Vermont, agreed, saying, “I feel that if I do all of the readings and attend class regularly that I should be able to achieve a grade of at least a B.”

Via QandO, Critical Mass, Orin Kerr, and Jacob Levy, the latter of whom dissents in part.

Snark aside, I think “consumer demand” by students is a less compelling aspect of the problem—or at least the dimension of the problem I see at TAMIU, which is rather different than the dimension I observed teaching at selective private institutions—than the complicity of faculty and—particularly—administrators in encouraging faculty to reward students for occupying space and going through the motions in a misguided effort to retain students (and, perhaps more importantly, their associated free money from state and federal coffers—the marginal cost of student instruction is essentially zero from an administrative perspective) in college who have neither the interest nor actual need to complete a four-year degree.

My past thoughts on grading in general can be found here and here.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Jobbing out

For my on-the-market readers who haven’t swung by the rumor forum yet, I have a short post about our International Relations and/or Political Theory position (originally it was two positions, hence the weird combination… but that’s a long, boring story) that allegedly is winding its way towards eJobs soon.

The bottom line: I’m happy to meet (informally—this ain’t an interview or even a APSA meat market session) with anyone who’s interested in the job this weekend at TLC in Baltimore; drop me an email if you’re interested in talking.

Short “pimp this job” FAQ: the pay is good for the region, the load is a 4–3, I think we’re willing to hire in IR or theory or both (frankly I don’t think we can usefully narrow the pool to and only, although there’s a chance the theory part is more non-negotiable since we’ve lived a while without an IR person but haven’t lived without a theorist until this semester), there is some research support, we don’t have the kind of “identity politics” issues that you see at other minority-serving institutions, and all your colleagues would be really nice folks. Playing nicely with others is essential; we do have our disagreements, but starting or engaging in pitched battles over ideology, qual/quant, pedagogy, etc. will not earn you a fan club, nor will free-floating hostility towards (as opposed to occasional mere frustration with) students. Last, but not least, it’s probably easier to live in Laredo and teach at TAMIU if you can tone down (or just bear with) any “Type A” tendencies in your personality.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Get your learn on

My APSA Teaching & Learning Conference paper co-written with my colleagues Lynne and Marcus is now done; I’m looking forward to my quick trip to Baltimore to present it and catch up with the methods-teaching crowd this weekend.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Make my job easier

Andrew Gelman links a paper by Christian Grose and Carrie Russell I am discussant for at SPSA in three weeks. (Incidentally, it’s the only paper for the panel I’ve received so far—but since I’m not exactly on-schedule with my paper, I can’t really throw many stones about it.)

The paper looks at the effect of being required to vote publicly (for example, in a caucus setting) on voters’ willingness to participate based on a novel experiment conducted during the 2008 Iowa Democratic caucuses. Their research may be some implications for the current debate over card check, although what those implications might be I leave to others, at least until SPSA.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Apparently I'm big in Eastern Europe

Not only do I have a published article in Ukrainian (or possibly Russian), I’m cited in Czech. Would that I had such academic prestige in North America.

Another day, another syllabus

My current draft of my graduate political behavior seminar syllabus. There are a few holes here and there—and I know it’s probably closer to a senior seminar-level syllabus at a more selective institution—but I’m confident I can refine it a bit in the next few weeks while I tackle the easier syllabi.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Final exam, UNIV 1101

Please use only a green Scantron form and #2 pencil to complete this exam. Answers circled on this exam paper will not be graded.

1. A professor says an assignment is due on Tuesday at 8 p.m. Which of the following statements is true? (Circle only one.)

a. I can turn in the assignment on Wednesday at 8 a.m. without penalty.
b. I can turn in the assignment prior to Tuesday at 8 p.m. without penalty.
c. I must turn in the assignment at precisely 8 p.m. Tuesday—synchronize watches!
d. Your professor is likely to be in his/her office at 8 p.m. Tuesday.

2. Your professor, Louise Johnson, is apparently a single female. Which of the following is a proper form of address for her, absent specific instructions to the contrary? (Circle as many as appropriate.)

a. Mrs. Johnson
b. Miss Johnson
c. Dr. Johnson
d. Prof. Johnson
e. Louise
f. Hot Lips

3. Your professor has given instructions that an assignment must be turned in both in electronic form at TurnItIn.com and on paper. How should you respond? (Circle the appropriate answer.)

a. I will turn in an electronic copy at TurnItIn.com and a paper copy at the professor’s office.
b. I will make up some excuse about being “out of printing credits” and only turn in an electronic copy.
c. I will copy-and-paste my paper from a Wikipedia article on a completely unrelated topic and only turn in a paper copy.
d. I will turn in neither; instead, I will complete a Universal Grade Change form as found at “Kids Prefer Cheese,” a popular Internet weblog.

4. A professor gives an examination in which s/he requires the use of a green Scantron form and a #2 pencil. I should

a. bring some obscure type of pencil only marketed in Mongolia and a pink Scantron form purchased at a university in the Ivory Coast.
b. bring a #2 pencil and a green Scantron form to the exam.
c. complete the exam using a pen, because there’s no way the machine knows the difference between pencil and pen even though one is reflective and the other isn’t.
d. come to class late and disrupt other students by asking if anyone has a green Scantron form they’d like to give me.

Extra Credit: My class meets MWF 8-8:50 a.m. My final exam is Friday from 8–11 a.m. Finals week starts Monday. I should

a. go to class Monday and Wednesday even though there are likely other final exams scheduled in that room at the same time.
b. email the professor Thursday night letting him know that I have three final exams scheduled for Friday and I’d like to reschedule my exam for some other time.
c. not attend the final exam because my high school exempts students from taking finals if they have an “A” in the course (never mind that I currently have a 76, but don’t know that because I can’t be bothered to check the online gradebook).
d. study.
e. none of the above.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008


Public opinion, voting behavior, parties, and interest groups all shoved together in one unholy syllabus. And the best part is that I couldn’t even figure out how to cram in two books I’ve already ordered, which no doubt will annoy the bookstore to no end.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Finally a thread we can all get behind

The rumor board gets a thread on dealing with non-academics who don’t get the academic job market. Now if we just had a thread for academics who don’t get the nature of the market, we’d be set.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

“This beehive needed whacking”

Day two of the TAMIU plagiarism saga hits Inside Higher Ed with such pearls of wisdom from the (now terminated) instructor who apparently instigated the controversy.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

The ass end of the campus grapevine

At least now I know why we all suddenly had to complete a training module on FERPA last week, although in fairness it was the only required training module thus far that actually seemed minimally relevant to my job.

Without wading into the specifics of the case at hand (all I know is what is printed in the local paper), I will say that I have no problem in principle with the idea that students ought to be entitled to due process regarding charges of academic dishonesty, just as they are entitled to due process in the determination of their grades in other circumstances, provided that those entrusted with the duty of reviewing these charges take violations seriously and operate with the presumption that the burden of proof in a grade dispute is on the student rather than the faculty member.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008


So I assume the usual suspects at APSA will now be calling for a boycott of all future meetings in California.

The sad thing is that I agree with the boycott ringleaders on policy but it’s hard to take their specious arguments against the 2012 New Orleans meeting as being motivated by anything other than uninformed or outdated stereotypes of how New Orleanians would behave, as if there are absolutely no gay and lesbian couples in New Orleans today who have successfully dealt with the lack of a legal right to have their relationship with their life partners legitimized by the state. If, as a social scientist, you want other social scientists who aren’t fully committed to your personal crusades to take your public policy arguments seriously, you need to present at least some sort of data in support of your arguments.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Inside baseball

I’ve been remiss in pointing my readers recently to Zachary Schrag’s Institutional Review Blog, which patiently documents the overreach and misapplication of federal regulations regarding the protection of human subjects to the social and behavioral sciences, including research that by federal regulation is exempt from review by IRBs.

While Schrag is cautiously optimistic that the new head of the Office of Human Research Protections will be an improvement, the continued domination of the process at most levels by biomedical researchers—along with the general sense that, as Schrag notes, “researchers cannot be trusted to apply the exemptions themselves”—is still troubling to those of us who want to conduct human subjects research, particularly secondary data analysis. Technically speaking (even though I dare say most social scientists observe this requirement in the breach), even the analysis of secondary data collected by others and fully anonymized before we see it (e.g. use of data such as the General Social Survey, American National Election Studies series, the Eurobarometer series, etc.) requires IRB oversight and approval beforehand.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Satisficing or incomplete information?

It occurred to me this morning, as I was pondering our forthcoming ads for two political science positions and a conversation I had yesterday with some other social scientists, that had I accepted either of the tenure-track jobs I was offered before coming to TAMIU, I’d never have even applied for this job even though on most dimensions, at least in my personal judgment, it’s a better position than either of those were/are.

I’m not really sure what this all means, but I figured letting my readers engage in something a step above dream analysis might be more interesting than not posting anything today.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

It would be so nice

IHE today has an article on whether or not faculty should give their students Election Day off to go vote. While I’d certainly excuse a student who was working as an election clerk all day, given the ample opportunity for early and absentee voting here I really don’t think I could justify a blanket election day holiday for all students in my courses.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Syllabi: creating excuses for professors to read what they need to read

Our book orders were due ridiculously early, so I didn’t slip in everything I probably should have added from my “to be read” list, but at least I got in The American Voter Revisited, The End of Inequality, and Partisan Hearts and Minds between my graduate political behavior course and the senior-level course I’m using to shoehorn political behavior, parties, and interest groups into our (radically in need of some overhaul) undergraduate major.

Now I have to make up some fake syllabi for two courses I’m unlikely to ever teach—but since I put in the proposals for our new graduate methods sequence, writing the syllabi for the curriculum committee is my job even though I’ve deferred to a PA person and a sociologist to teach the sequence regularly (which lets me focus on undergrad methods, which the PA person doesn’t want to teach and which I’d rather teach than the graduate sequence).

Saturday, 27 September 2008


A commenter at InsideHigherEd suggests a new system for ranking colleges:

One index of quality might be a compilation where college professors send their own children to college. These parents know what goes on inside a campus that affects students.

College instructors are the last people who would rely on U.S. News for information in where to send their own children. The high prestige universities are great places to get a graduate degree, but professors often see that the best undergraduate education lies elsewhere.

Of course, professors also know that at least in academic hiring (probably to a greater extent than most areas, except medicine and law), institutional prestige is a major factor in the decisionmaking process, so they may emphasize prestige more than is warranted. But the general principle is sound: be wary of an institution that a professor wouldn’t send their own kids to.

Friday, 19 September 2008


Via Ars Technica, yet another social networking site, this time for academics with extensive support for classifying yourself down to the most microscopic of subfields. So far it seems a little less sterile than LinkedIn, which is probably a good thing.

My profile is here, if you haven’t been blasted by an invite from me already.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Inmates and the asylum

I’m all for responsiveness to reasonable student feedback but this student complaint seems somewhat beyond the pale.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Advice, of sorts

A few bits and pieces I’ve learned or been told over the years:

  • Create a word processor file each year. As you do things that need to go in your annual report (here it’s called PP&E), put things in it, so when you write the actual report you don’t have to remember what you were doing last September.
  • Type up all your lecture notes and save them on your computer and as many thumb drives as you can find. If you already have handwritten notes, either scan them in and archive, or type them up. You never know when you’ll have to teach that “one time only” class again.
  • “Face time” counts. Even though you will probably be at your least productive 8–5 weekdays in your office, being present and visible at least some of that time is a good thing. Also, try to get an office were your presence is difficult to overlook, even if you would rather hide in the corner suite.

Update: Another helpful hint from Michelle: “solicit advice and guidance from both junior and senior colleagues (they often like to give it and it will give you insights into dept politics, issues, and what they really care about for tenure).”