Friday, 29 April 2005

Hedwig and George Street

My generally-nonexistent social life had a brief blip Thursday night: Kelly and I saw Hedwig and the Angry Inch at Hal and Mal’s (muy excellente), and followed up by meeting Kamilla and Andy at George Street where a couple of acts were playing and a fair share of the Millsaps political science majors were partying. Fun and merriment were had by all, I do believe.

No doubt frequent commenter Scott will chime in to provide his review of George Street. For my part, I thought it was a pretty nice place, though the $5 Bass on tap seemed a tad steep (maybe I'm too fond of Oxford prices).

Friday, 22 April 2005

DuBose now a Major

Just to prove how far out of the loop I am, people in other states have been letting me know that Millsaps hired Mike DuBose as defensive coordinator of the football program today; here’s the press release.

It looks like something of a coup for the Majors, who have been attempting to rebuild the football program the last couple of seasons with improved facilities and new blood on the coaching staff, including DuBose and former Alcorn State and arena league star Fred McNair. It wouldn’t be particularly surprising to see DuBose move up to head coach sooner rather than later, as rumors of current head coach David Saunders moving on to a I-A assistant coaching job have been circling for a while—recently, he was rumored to be on the shortlist for Ed Orgeron’s staff at Ole Miss.

Friday, 15 April 2005

Yay plagiarism

I really love it when my students give me extra work to do—in this case, an hour of fighting with OCR software and Word’s “compare documents” feature so I have evidence to take to the dean on Monday. To coin a phrase, I plan to shoot ‘em all and let the Honor Council sort ‘em out.

Tuesday, 5 April 2005

Top Ten questions not asked of seniors at oral comps

  1. What’s the deal with Lindsay Lohan?
  2. So… how about them Dodgers?
  3. Complete the analogy: George Bush is to chimpanzee as (blank) is to Lurch.
  4. Would Ashlee Simpson be famous if her sister weren’t Jessica Simpson?
  5. If you were the president of Haiti, how would you increase your exports of baseball players to match that of the Dominican Republic?
  6. Explain the song “Dip It Low” by Christina Milian in one sentence.
  7. How does theft of silverware and glassware from the Caf affect the international system? Give examples.
  8. “If PBS doesn’t do it, who will?” What is “it”?
  9. Under the CAN-SPAM Act, what is the maximum prison sentence that the assistant director of intramural athletics can receive for mailbombing the campus population with four announcements of a 3-on-3 Dodgeball tournament?
  10. Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?

Sunday, 27 March 2005

Before me and you

Before I become Staff, Departmental and blank, there’s still a job to be done here—most notably on my current radar, administering written comprehensive exams to 24 seniors on Monday night, then grading the American portions of said exams and sitting in on oral comps the following week. Happy happy, joy joy.

Monday, 21 March 2005

What we have here is a failure to discriminate

The second exam in American government had good and bad points; the good point was that the average, an 82, was basically where I wanted it to be. The bad point is that, somehow, the standard deviation was 4. So bad, in fact, I was sorely tempted to rescale the scores so there would be a larger standard deviation. Even worse, the correlation between scores on the first two exams was something like 0.2.

In layman’s terms, somehow I managed to ask 30 multiple choice questions, about 25 of which were either too easy (almost everyone got them right) or too hard (the only way people got them right was by guessing); coupled with the essay questions that never seem to discriminate well among students, I produced an exam that was borderline useless. Ugh.

Sunday, 20 February 2005

The Ohioan Play

Tonight I saw a very good production of “Lend Me a Tenor” by several Millsaps College theater students. My companions for the evening, Suzanne and Kamilla (er, Drs. Woodward and Bahbahani), both agreed with me that it was a most excellent performance.* Color me very impressed.

Friday, 18 February 2005


An interesting piece in today’s Clarion-Ledger about academic misconduct at Mississippi colleges and universities.

Funnily enough, I just talked about this topic Wednesday with my public opinion class when I handed out their take-home exam. It seems to me that honor codes and the like are just part of the puzzle; just as important is for faculty members to create circumstances in which students will be less tempted to break the rules—or, failing that, writing exams that would be very hard to effectively cheat on.

Monday, 7 February 2005

The Mardi Gras plague

Glenn Reynolds notes a decline in class attendance at UT-Knoxville:

My classes are notably empty, and many of the students who are there are hacking, coughing and looking miserable.

I’ve noticed the same thing. Glenn blames the flu. I blame New Orleans.

Incidentally, the only tourist experience that I think possibly could be worse than Bourbon Street (in general) is Bourbon Street at Mardi Gras. But, if someone figures out a way to have Mardi Gras without the accompanying crowd of drunk teenagers I’m there.

Tuesday, 25 January 2005

Grade stagflation

Since before Robert’s post on this topic, I’ve been pondering grades in general, prompted by this post by Will Baude relating his experience at Yale, where he hasn’t yet “taken any classes that attempt to draw actual distinctions among the students.” Indeed, the very purpose of grading (as opposed to marking, as my Canadian colleague refers to it) is to discriminate among students on the basis of their academic performance. Thus all of the participants in the debate are right in their own ways, but I think they (individually, at least) miss the big picture.

Leopold Stotch and Steven Taylor both bemoan the administrative meddling in grade assignment inherent in Princeton’s decision, a sentiment with which (as a fellow political science professor) I must concur, lest we become like those emasculated law profs who not only no longer control their grades but also lack control over their own exam conditions. On the other hand, Nathan Novak thinks it’s a non-issue, due to the widespread use of class rank to compare students from different institutions; Andrew Samwick makes a similar point, although he acknowledges that grade inflation does lead to compression of the grade range. At the extreme end of the scale, the Grouch thinks grades don’t matter at all; I wouldn’t go that far, due to reasons of path dependence, but I can see his point—few people today care what grades I got in high school or as an undergraduate, but I wouldn’t be a professor today if I hadn’t gotten mostly A’s and B’s.

I think what Princeton is trying to do (rightly or wrongly) is address the “compression” problem that Andrew talks about—if 50% of the class are getting A’s, ny meaningful discrimination among those students has been eliminated; in other words, there’s been a loss of information in the process. If the purpose of grading is simply to drop passing students in buckets based on their absolute performance, giving 50% of students A’s might be appropriate; on the other hand, if the purpose of grading is to determine the relative merit of students, putting 50% of them in a single category isn’t very helpful.

The trouble is, we expect grades to do both of these things. The Millsaps college catalog, for example, requires all political science majors and minors to earn C’s in all of their coursework for the major (which leads to its own sort of compression effect, since effectively the minimum passing grade is raised from a 60 to a 73), and students must maintain a 2.0 GPA to participate in various and sundry extracurricular activities—the C and 2.0 represent absolute standards. But we also use grades to evaluate relative achievement, for election to honorary societies such as Phi Beta Kappa and for awarding other honors.

I don’t know that there’s a simple answer to these problems, although perhaps including measures of central tendency and dispersion along with assigned grades (as is at least partially the case at Dartmouth, according to Andrew) might be a good start.

Monday, 24 January 2005

Johnny Carson, RIP

I don’t have a lot to say about Johnny Carson’s passing Sunday at the age of 79—I was never a huge fan of his, always preferring David Letterman—but an interesting footnote of his life (that I only discovered a few days ago) was that he came to Millsaps College for part of his naval officer’s training in 1943. Small world and all that.

Thursday, 20 January 2005

Gender splits in the classroom

Heidi Bond and Amber Taylor are looking around some of their law classes and finding them to be male-dominated. This got me to thinking of my classes this semester, for which I just received final rosters earlier today.

  • Intro to American Government: about 50–50 (I think I counted 17 male students out of 36).
  • Con Law II (catalog name: Civil Liberties): about 60–40 female (16 students).
  • Public Opinion: 75–25 male (8 students).
  • Directed Readings and Honors Thesis: 100–0 female (two students, one in each).

The college population is about 55–45 female, and the political science major seems to be around 60–40 female. Not really sure why public opinion is less popular than con law with female students; if anything, I’d have expected the opposite, since con law really only makes sense for the pre-law types, who tend to be male here. Then again, it could be a scheduling thing; the MW 2:45–4 timeslot is pretty empty at Millsaps, while more classes are offered during the 1–2:15/40 slot (so there are more conflicts).

One other oddity: before looking at the roster, I would have guessed that intro was a bit more skewed female. I think part of that is the middle of the lecture hall seems more female, and it’s difficult to have the full class in my field of vision, particularly with glasses (49 seats are crammed in a room that probably was originally designed for 30, so lecturing in there is almost like performing in the “round”).

Monday, 10 January 2005

Back at work

After a doctor’s appointment and some last-minute rearrangements of my public opinion syllabus, I think I’m ready for classes. But we’ll see about that for certain in about 40 minutes.

Sunday, 2 January 2005


I’m not dead, I just have nothing much to say—particularly on the wrong end of a 56k dialup line. Happy New Year to all our readers; I expect to have some things to say in a few days, probably including a review of one of my Christmas presents, The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America, by Economist writers John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge.

In the meantime I’m trying to relax my brain—and my separated shoulder—so I won’t look like a babbling fool when I try to teach three new courses (public opinion, civil liberties, and an independent study course in southern politics) in addition to a revamped Introduction to American Politics class in the spring.

Wednesday, 29 December 2004

Keeping up with the Majors

Belhaven College wants to upgrade its home football field, which it shares with Jackson Public Schools, to have better facilities and artificial turf.

Left unmentioned is that Belhaven’s generous offer to pay for most of the renovations might have something to do with field envy for the new surface at Harper Davis Field a few hundred yards west. It’s gotta stick in those Presbyterians’ craws that us Methodists have ourselves a better football field.

Broken when I'm lonesome

I apparently have a love-hate relationship with my students; in my mailbox at work today were a Christmas card from a student and my abysmal (at least by Millsaps standards) course evaluations. Four students in my intro class apparently thought it would be amusing to give me the lowest possible ranking on all 19 questions, even such procedural items as “gives clear directions” and “presents [material] in a clear sequence.” Ah well, at least I “demonstrate knowledge” of what I’m teaching…

My response to all this, of course, was to finish my SPSA paper on voting in recent presidential elections and continue getting organized for my trip to Florida tomorrow.

Monday, 13 December 2004

Poll this

As promised, here’s the exit poll report, hot off the presses. There are not enough pretty graphs yet, but you get the idea.

Wednesday, 1 December 2004

Free at last

Well, that was a fun semester. Let’s just hope that I get to do a few more of these before I have to move elsewhere.

Monday, 29 November 2004

My life as a report writer

I’ve come to the conclusion I really don’t enjoy writing up cross-tabs, even when it’s research I conducted myself. I’d kill to be writing for an audience that could deal with logistic regression results…

Nonetheless, despite distractions (MNF on TiVo and the need for sleep chief among them) I will press on. Maybe I’ll have a paper full of exit poll results to share soon…

Wednesday, 24 November 2004

Exit poll prelims

I’m now most of the way through (with some help from a few students) entering the data from our exit poll three weeks ago. Based on 632 respondents, there are a few things that jump out at me:

  • Never ask people if they consider themselves born-again Christians, because apparently they don’t understand that question. Ditto asking them to figure out if they are “Protestant.”
  • People who don’t have friends or family members who are gay were 2.5 times (!) more likely to vote for the same-sex marriage ban than those who do have gay friends or family members. This suggests that a compelling political strategy for gay people who support same-sex marriage is to come out.
  • Younger people were significantly less likely to support the amendment than other people. This suggests that (combined with the strategy above) all people who support same-sex marriage should wait for a lot of old people to die off.
  • Black voters are much more likely than white voters to believe Clarence Thomas is the chief justice of the United States.

There’s other fun stuff in the poll that I’ll get to once our last precinct is entered and the data is properly cleaned up.

By the way, if you need to enter a lot of data, I cannot say enough good things about EpiData. It’s very slick and the price is right.

Saturday, 6 November 2004

Majors beat Rhodes

Bad news for my co-blogger as my employer’s football team beats his alma mater’s, 28–19. Congratulations to the Millsaps Majors (4–4, 3–2) on getting back to .500 after two consecutive road wins, heading into next Saturday’s final game against #6 Trinity (8–1, 5–0).

Saturday, 23 October 2004

Huzzah and kudos, Starkvegas style

I echo BigJim’s magnanimity on the occasion of A&M’s win over Florida… but, if all you Bulldog fans think this means you’re not still due for your annual whoopin’ in the Egg Bowl, you’re sorely mistaken.

In other news, the Millsaps Majors just got pummelled 38–7 by DePauw at Homecoming; somehow, the unseasonal 80+ degree heat didn’t even seem to bother the visitors from Indiana. Nonetheless, a good time was had by all, and one of my con law students was crowned Homecoming Queen, so that was cool too.

Monday, 11 October 2004

Corn on the Cobb

As mentioned earlier, Green Party presidential nominee David Cobb appeared at Millsaps for about an hour; he spoke for about 20 minutes, then let audience members ask him questions for the remainder of the time. There was some local TV media in attendance from channels 3 and 13, at least.

I’ll have to say that even though Cobb’s political beliefs are quite opposed to mine in many ways, he’s a very effective speaker, and I think his personal story of growing up as a poor white kid on the Gulf Shore in Texas resonates well with audiences. Of course, he said a bunch of outlandish things (and I think his economic analysis of raising the minimum wage to a “living wage” is frankly laughable, and his “the Iraq War was for oil” analysis is far too simplistic), but I think he also talked with sophistication and depth about a lot of social and political issues—in fact, his discussion of voting reforms (proportional representation and IRV) was about the best I’ve ever seen or heard.

He also had some interesting things to say (in response to a question from me) about his ongoing semi-partnership with Michael Badnarik on the campaign trail; even though the LP and Greens differ on a lot of issues, I think it’s interesting that they both have worked together to achieve common goals—something you’d never see two major-party political candidates do. One thing I’d have been interested in seeing him talk about was how Ralph Nader’s candidacy was affecting his—how do you manage a campaign with another candidate with better name recognition doing essentially the same riff?

Anyway, while I have to say I found a lot of Cobb’s material worthy of eye-rolling, I enjoyed hearing him speak and I think a lot of Americans would be well-served to listen to what he and folks like Badnarik have to say; it’s certainly a breath of fresh air after the canned inanity of Kerry-Bush, and like Cobb said, a lot of the ideas we take for granted today in American politics (good or bad) came from minor parties and their supporters before they were “cool.”

Not easy being Green

Green Party presidential candidate David Cobb is speaking at Millsaps today at 2:30 p.m.; expect some vague reportage after the appearance, but no liveblogging since Millsaps hasn’t installed any wireless Internet service yet. (Normally I teach Intro from 2:45 to 4 today, but I cancelled class so my students could attend if they chose to do so.)

Thursday, 7 October 2004

Bob McElvaine sets up a strawman

My colleague Bob McElvaine, a history prof, has a column in today’s Clarion-Ledger that rests on this rather incomplete definition:

The word conservative means keeping things as they are.

I’m debating between writing a 500-word rebuttal (tying it in with the “You are not X, say Y” theme) or just fisking the mercy out of the piece, though I have to say anyone who’s holding up Charley Reese as an exemplar of mainstream conservative thought in America probably deserves the latter.