Archive for October, 2008

October 15th 2008
Busted Barry begs to interview somewhere else

Posted under conferences & jobs


We get letters about all kinds of strange and remarkable providences here at Historiann HQ:  guarantees for the biggest “male package” are popular, as are letters from a Nigerian prince in exile with eccentric syntax who brings the wonderful news that we can share in his inheritance if only…well, you get the picture.

Today’s letter comes from Barry in Bakersfield, who’s teaching in a thankless term position that pays a part-time salary for a full-time (4-4) load.  He writes,

Please ask your readers what they think about my choice to wrap up my job letter with the following: “At present, I do not plan to attend the AHA convention; to be frank, I do not believe I can afford to do so on my current salary.” I follow it up with a suggestion for an alternative interview possibility, then a normal “closing” section. Am I shooting myself in the foot?  Do you think phone interviews are an advantage or a disadvantage?

As you historians know, the American Historical Association’s annual conference this year is in New York–a cross-country trip for Barry.  That’s quite a trip, with jet fuel going for what it does these days.  There are other reasons why some of you might want to avoid the whole convention interview scene–perhaps you’re only applying to a select few jobs, or perhaps you’re applying to an institution that’s local, so it seems wasteful of time, money, and petroleum to fly to another city for a 30-minute interview.  (Well, quite frankly, it is wasteful.  Convention interviews make sense only if you’ve got several lined up.)

My instinct is for Barry say nothing in his letter unless and until he hears from the search committee that they want to meet with him.  Up to that point, when you’re just a CV and a letter of application, the only thing you want to stand out in people’s minds is your awesome qualifications, extensive and impressive publications, and your deep and meaningful commitment to teaching–not your assessment of your personal bank balance.  Search committee members may be inclined to think, “well pal, everybody else is doin’ it, including unemployed ABDs, so cry me a river.”

If you hear from the search committee, you might propose a phone interview or local interview then, but I’ve never seen someone for whom we did phone interviews make it onto our list of finalists.  (I know of one instance when a locally-arranged screening interview yielded an invitation for an all-day on-campus interview, but in the end, no job offer.  Sample size N=1 here, so I don’t think we can draw any conclusions yet.)  My guess is that it’s better to advance through the interview process along with all of the other candidates.  If they’re setting this job up to have screening interviews at the AHA convention, then that’s their vision for how the process will work.  If that’s impossible, and you get the sense that the search committee is interested in you and willing to accomodate you, then an in-person interview would be better than a phone interview. 

Et vous, cher Readers?  Barry’s application is due any time now!  Most of you urged caution for Tenured Tammy last month, and talked me out of my advice to Tammy urging total honesty.  What do you think Barry should do?

UPDATE, 10/17/08:  Barry wrote me this morning to say the following:  “I was totally persuaded that I shouldn’t mention either my finances or my plans not to attend the convention.  I just wrapped up by saying ‘I hope to hear from you as you work your way through the search process.’  Totally bland and non-commital–let them be interested in me before even worrying about the next step of the process.”  Well done, readers!  Thanks for steering Barry to a happy resolution of his question.


October 14th 2008
Pay No Attention to the Man Behind that Curtain!!!

Posted under class & Gender & jobs & unhappy endings

Here’s a man-bites-dog higher ed story for you:  “Call to Arms for Adjuncts. . . From an Administrator.”  Yes, you read that right: 

“Wal-Mart is a more honest employer of part-time employees than are most colleges and universities,” said A.G. Monaco, senior human resources official at the University of Akron, and yet academics are “the ones screaming about how bad Wal-Mart is.” Academics “have to stop lying” about the way non-tenure-track professors are treated, he said.

Monaco described an adjunct he met recently.  “She is teaching eight courses a semester at colleges in southern Illinois, for an average of $2,000 per course. If she continues at this pace, without benefits, she can support herself, he said, but what does this say about higher education?”  He also raised the issue of gender equity of a two-tier faculty:

Beyond the questions the system raises about fairness and quality of teaching, he said there is also legal exposure. Monaco noted that colleges — champions of diversity — have created not only a two-tier system, but one in which adjuncts (who are likely to be female) are likely to work longer hours for smaller paychecks than another group, tenured faculty members, who are likely to be male.

So, is Monaco your hero yet?  Well, hold onto your hats.  (He’s in HR after all.)

Why doesn’t the adjunct system work managerially? “We’ve created a two-tier instructional staff” without telling the students or the public, he said. “You know that if you have two people do the same jobs and one is paid three times the other, one is going to get ticked off,” he said.

But the ones who are suffering from “gross disparities in salaries and benefits,” he said, are the ones who are doing an increasing share of the teaching. Monaco acknowledged that at research universities, there is a genuine need for faculty members to have extended non-teaching time to perform their responsibilities to advance scholarship. But he said that, up to master’s institutions, adjuncts and tenure-track faculty members have become largely indistinguishable in quality or classroom duties, but one group has much better pay and benefits. At most institutions outside the research elites, he said, the professors teaching less to do research “aren’t curing cancer.”

That’s true–in the History department we will probably never come up with a cure for cancer.  But, that’s because we’re the Department of History, not the Department of Curing Cancer, and it strikes me that a “cures cancer” standard for our research would be a monumental injustice to those of us hired to do research in other fields.  Those of us in Philosophy, English, French, German, Art History, and Anthropology (for example)–we’re more into curing terminal ignorance than cancer, but I’d like to point out that the one–the cure for ignorance–is a necessary precondition to the other–the cure for cancer.  My perspective is surely that of a self-interested regular faculty member, but:  what’s with knocking people’s research and pretending like “teaching” is the beginning and the end of our job descriptions?  (It’s not me who’s calling all of those meetings about curricular development, tenure and promotion, and departmental and college governance that I’m expected to attend.  Believe me, I’d rather be curing cancer!) 

Can we really trust this guy to be the adjuncts’ Avenging Angel, when it seems like he’s not so much interested in putting adjuncts into tenure-track lines as he is in adjunctifying the regular faculty?  Keep reading to the end of the article–Monaco’s pro-adjunct pose is a Trojan Horse for attacking tenure and faculty unions.  I agree with him that the interests of the regular faculty and of adjunct faculty are at odds–because neither of us have the time, money, or other resources to do our jobs properly.  The solution isn’t slicing the same pie differently, it’s more pies for everyone.


October 13th 2008
Anything I can do, you can do better…

Posted under Gender & students

Inside Higher Ed has an interesting report today on a new book by Linda J. Sax called The Gender Gap in College: Maximizing the Developmental Potential of Women and Men (2008), which offers a great deal of evidence on the so-called gender gap among college students:

The book’s purpose, [Sax] writes, is to “add context to what have become oversimplified but popular messages — that gender equity has been achieved, that women are an academic success story, and that men are experiencing an educational crisis. There is some truth to each of these messages, but they tend to convey the status of women and men as a zero-sum game.” The more nuanced reality, she writes, is that there are problems facing both men and women — and educators need to acknowledge and respond to these differences.

It sounds like a sensible feminist project to me–collect some real data, and see where that leads us.  Here’s a sad fact that may help explain both women’s achievement in college, and men’s lack of ambition or initiative in the event they get to college:

Self-Confidence of First-Year College Students by Gender, 2006

Academic Skill    

% of Women Who ThinkThey Are Above Average % of Men Who ThinkThey Are Above Average
Intellectual self-confidence 52.2% 68.8%
Mathematical ability 35.9% 53.1%
Academic ability 65.9% 71.9%
Writing ability 49.3% 45.7%

Depressing, isn’t it?  Gee, I wonder where the students get these attitudes?  (I’d also like to see how these questions breakdown according to race as well as sex.)  Oh, and here’s a fun fact to bring up at your first search committee meeting this fall:

One finding in particular is striking, given the debates about affirmative action and the importance of diversifying the faculty, which was once overwhelmingly male. The data suggest a direct relationship, Sax writes, between institutions having larger proportions of female students and faculty members and all students — males too — performing better academically. While noting that the data do not suggest why this is the case, Sax urges researchers to explore the reasons for this relationship.

Why would that be, I wonder?  Perhaps the mere fact of seriously considering a wider number of applications for faculty positions–that is, making the search pool more competitive–yields more competitive faculty who thereby challenge the students more?  Do women on the faculty encourage women students to up their games, which then inspires the male students to do better?  (It’s hard to say without seeing what’s being measured as “performing better academically”–is that measured merely with grades, or with LSAT or GRE scores, or by other measures?)

Finally, here’s one of my favorite nuggets from this veritable bag of salted peanut-like data points:  “both male and female students are least likely to do well at large public universities.”  Well, duh!  I think someone else made this point rather fulsomely nearly six months ago.  (Rather brilliantly, I might add.)


October 12th 2008
C’mon, move to Canada!

Posted under O Canada

Homostorian Americanist, who grew up in the Great White North, sent along a link to this video inviting distraught American “E.L.I.T.E.s” to migrate across the border in the event of a McCain victory next month.  Go ahead–click and laugh (until you cry!)  Of course, Canada will probably still have a Conservative national government after the elections Tuesday, but their Conservatives are left of most Blue Dog Democrats in this country, and even the Conservatives don’t advance serious plans to do away with socialized medicine!


October 8th 2008
FREACout in the Desert: No Depression!

Posted under American history & conferences & local news

Famille Historiann is off on a working mini-break to Tucson, for the annual meeting of the Front Range Early American Consortium at the University of Arizona.  (Teh Srsly Awesumm Greatest Depression Evah may mean that this is our last trip for a while–so let up, OK?)  The FREAC as it is affectionately known is one of those regional gems with a very friendly and smart cast of regulars.  Many thanks to Jack Marietta for hosting us.

So, no posting this weekend–only rigorous interrogations of scholarship, while sitting by the pool drinking Cactus Blossom margaritas.  Historiann is taking ideas for an essay on “Gender and Sexuality in the North American Borderlands” out for a ride.  Giddyap!

UPDATE, 10/12/08:  Home again, and it’s 45 degrees F and damp in Potterville!  Those 90-degree days around the pool sure felt good.  Oh, and the conference was great, too–I learned a lot, and where else can one tell stupid jokes about Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine?  (I mean, who else would appreciate them?  Thanks, FREACs!  See you in Boulder next year.)


October 8th 2008
Advice to a new department chair: “to choose is to offend.”

Posted under Berkshire Conference & jobs

Here’s a dose of stiff medicine at the Chronicle, called “Advice to a New Department Chair” (via RYS Hall) from an outgoing department chair.  (My department is looking for a new chair this year, so the subject is on my mind lately.)  It’s actually great advice, although it’s probably not what new chairs want to hear.  The first declaration on his list is,”Nobody held a gun to your head.  No matter how reluctantly you took the job, you had the ultimate say as to whether to accept it. In that sense, you took the job willingly, knowing it would be difficult and sometimes stressful. Nobody forced you to seek it, or promised a bed of roses.”  I think this is really useful professional advice that applies to a variety of professional roles and service we might take on.  My favorite bit of advice is this:

To govern is to choose, said President Kennedy. And my corollary is, To choose is to offend. Expect criticism. It will not always result from the most-controversial or hard-to-defend decisions you will make, but sometimes from those that will seem like no-brainers to you. Your motives and sense of fairness will be suspected.

I got a version of this advice from a good friend of mine, when I privately complained to her about some long, crazed e-mails written in the correspondent’s blood I was getting concerning some of my work for the Berkshire conference last year.  The angry e-mails (and phone calls–ze called other people to complain about my decisions!) upset me:  did this person think I was a 23 year-old graduate student ze could push around?  Where was the respect?  Did ze not understand the hard work and careful planning that went into my decision, and that I made the decision with the advice of others, too?  My friend said to me, “Well, Historiann, the more stuff you do, the more you’ll get criticized.”  She continued:  “You either have to decide to live with the criticism, however fair or unfair, or decide not to do anything.”  She was exactly right:  if you stick your neck out and take on a role in which you’ll need to make decisions, not everyone will say “thank you for doing all of that hard work!”  Well, some will–but some will complain that you didn’t make the right decision–because it’s so easy and fun to criticize the quarterback from the sidelines, isn’t it?  (Of course, occasionally they might be right, but right or wrong, you won’t get credit for volunteering to make the decision.)

Needless to say, I realize that this all seems pretty obvious in retrospect, but I guess I had to hear it from someone else before it all clicked in my brain.  And, I should say that the words of praise, encouragement, and genuine appreciation for my work far, far outnumbered the few complaints I received.  (Perhaps that’s why this one persistent complainer stood out so dramatically and was so upsetting to me.  Everyone else loves my work–what the hell is wrong with you, pal?)

I decided that in the end, despite some criticism, it was good to be the quarterback.  If anyone doesn’t like my plays, they can damn well field their own team and put on their own show.  (And, please, please let me remember this as I watch happily from the sidelines for a few years.)  You can either bitch, or roll up your sleeves and get to work.


October 6th 2008
Little Berks blogger meetup round-up (yee-haw!)

Posted under Berkshire Conference & Gender & women's history


Well, it sounds like a great time was had by all, gosh darn it, although I wasn’t in attendance (*sniff!*  Maybe next year I should volunteer to arrange for the Little Berkshire Conference to meet in the Rockies instead of the, um, Berkshires?)  The laydeez–Tenured Radical, Knitting Clio, and Clio Bluestocking–have posted reports on the conference, and two of them wrote about their conversation Saturday about women’s history blogging.

Although she missed the first night of the conference due to a bad cold, KC writes about a great idea of hers, namely, linking the Sunday seminars with the new Berks blog although as a place for starting the conversation before the conference, and for keeping the conversation going afterwards.  (Who knows if there will be seminars or not in 2011–that’s up to the next Program Committee co-Chairs–but I think making better use of the blog is a wonderful idea, especially if it can involve Big Berks content and connections, too.)  Tenured Radical writes very movingly about how blogging was for her “the best kind of middle-aged crisis,” in that it permitted her to be “a historian who is once again having fun.”  She relates more information about the Unpleasant Events she endured a few years ago, saying that “my writing had been purposely trashed as part of a departmental political struggle,” which led to a crisis in self-confidence about her writing and her chosen career (natch!)  Fortunately, the blogosphere saved her!

TR also drops the very interesting point that “Nancy Cott, Director if the Schlesinger Library, is currently working with her staff on a project to archive feminist blogs permanently, which will cause a blog like mine to ultimately be ‘fixed’ in a way it never will be while it is up on [the web.]”  (Don’t they know that Google cache is forever?  Well, “forever” is a Google-dependent concept now I suppose, so it’s probably good that the girls down at the “Schles” are at work to preserve touts les bons mots ici!) 

Finally, Clio B. hasn’t posted a final report about her presentation, although she leaves us some intriuging clues in some thoughts about connections between Sandy Bardsley’s talk about women in the wake of the Black Death, and her prospective thoughts about women bloggers.  Bardsley presented some compelling evidence about the decline of women’s public voices after the plague:

One of the audience members pointed out that this last point — about women’s public voices — anticipated tomorrow’s panel on blogging. One of the points that I want to make on that panel is related to the abuse that many female bloggers have endured sometimes simply by daring to venture a voice into the public. This seems so cliche and expected. Of course when women venture into the public sphere, they sustain vicious attacks. Of course, when they protest sexism, they are told to suck it up. They should, in other words, to be a “man” about it. What original can I bring to this conversation, especially in the absence of some concrete data?

Well, Clio–we’re waiting!  Don’t leave us in suspense any longer (although I understand that your return was delayed in Yonkers.  Ouch!)  I’ve already shared my thoughts about feminist bloggers attracting surprisingly creepy, persistent, and disturbed trolls–let us in on your secrets!  (Secret recipes for troll repellent, that is.  How about Erica’s hot dogs and hard-boiled eggs en gellée?  That’ll fix his wagon.)

Whoops–it’s time for the chuckwagon to pull up here at El Rancho Historiann.  Come and get it, gals!

UPDATE, 10/7/08Clio B. has posted her notes and reflections on the discussion about blogging.  She is getting contrite about having complained about students in the past on her blog, but I still think it’s OK in some cases to blow off steam about frustrations with students on academic blogs, even when one is the teacher and tenured and all that.  Sometimes, students (like everyone else) say and do obnoxious things, and it’s perfectly OK to complain about that (anonymously, of course).  It’s not OK to mock students for being unsophisticated or not very bright, IMHO–that’s just mean–but it’s fine to call out bad behavior and ask for help from others if you need advice about dealing with a student. 

Interestingly, most academic blogs focus their ire on the bad behavior of colleagues.  Hmmm….

Oh, and thanks for pointing us to this intriguing title:  How to Suppress Women’s Writing, by Joanna Russ.


October 6th 2008
Signs and the “Times”: focus on Potterville

Posted under American history & local news

Wow–my sweet, quiet, former-utopian-colony town made the big-time today in a “Road to November” video featured on the front page of the New York Times.  (Permalink to the video is here–check it out; h/t to reader K.N. for alerting me.)  I think it’s a fair overview of what’s going on here.  However, I don’t see a battle over yard signs–yet anyway–which has concerned me.  Four years ago, people had their Kerry/Edwards signs out in force in September, and there was a lot of intensity among Democrats and Independents because of their rage and frustration about George W. Bush.  Here in Potterville, I don’t think there’s as much positive intensity for Obama, as the first (and still majority of) yard signs I saw were McCain signs, even in my neighborhood, which has more liberalish intellectualish people because of its proximity to Moo Moo U. (also featured in the video).

Although I’m a Democrat (and on every local and national candidate’s fundraising list), no one from the Barack Obama campaign has yet contacted me to ask me to put out a yard sign.  I understand the focus is on registering new voters (and firing up the kids with a visit from Eva Longoria Parker), so maybe longtime Dems, regular voters, and homeowners aren’t high on their list right now.  (Still–I think it would do the Obama campaign some good to get off of the college campuses once in a while.  I remember that we all though the college kids with their cell phones would put Kerry over the top–and I’m reluctant to swallow that line again until the kids deliver like middle-aged and senior voters do for the Dems.)


October 5th 2008
Outrageous! Gardasil required of female green card applicants, to the tune of $400

Posted under American history & Bodily modification & childhood & class & Gender & Intersectionality & race & women's history

Kudos (and apologies!) to Professor BlackWoman from WOC Ph.D., who alerted me last month to this outrage.  (While you’re over there, check out her nice new design and software.)  I’ve been meaning to follow up on this, but Friday’s Denver Post lit a fire under my butt when it ran this story from the AP wire:

A new mandate requiring girls as young as 11 to be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted virus before they can become legal U.S. residents is unfair, immigration advocates say.

The federal rule, which took effect July 1, added Gardasil to the list of vaccinations that female immigrants ages 11 to 26 must get before they can obtain “green cards.”

The series of three shots over six months protects against the strains of the human papillomavirus blamed for most cases of cervical cancer and genital warts. But the vaccine is one of the most expensive on the market and controversial.

“This is a huge economic, social and cultural barrier to immigrants who are coming into America,” said Tuyet Duong, senior staff attorney for the Immigration and Immigrant Rights Program at the Asian American Justice Center.

At a cost of $400, Gardasil places an added burden on green card applicants already paying more than a thousand dollars in form fees and hundreds of dollars for mandatory medical exams, advocates say.

I’m on the record as supporting the vaccine for all girls, and have criticized parents for not embracing this vaccine because they can’t bring themselves to admit that their daughters may one day have sex with men.  (I also hate the whole vaccines cause autism excuse too, but Gardasil is in a class of its own with the kinds of criticism it has received.)  But, if your excuse is that you don’t have $400, well then, that’s a damned good reason not to get the vaccine.  (Paging Universal Health Care–hello?  Hello?)

Is this federal law really about safeguarding either women’s health or the public health, or is it about putting up another barrier for immigrant women when no such requirement exists for girls and women who are U.S. citizens?  Interestingly, this concern is shared by the very people at the Centers for Disease Control who initially approved and recommended the Gardasil vaccine:

The route by which the measure became law, however, was both roundabout and—according to the head of the committee that prompted the change—unintentional.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the Gardasil vaccine, made by New Jersey-based pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co., Inc., in 2006. Then last year, an advisory committee to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the vaccinations for girls 11 or 12.

For U.S. citizens, the committee’s recommendations serve only to provide guidance on immunization issues. But a 1996 change to the nation’s immigration laws required anyone seeking permanent residency to get all the vaccinations recommended by the committee.

Jon Abramson, who chaired the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, said the panel never intended to require Gardasil for immigrants and wasn’t aware its recommendation would become mandatory.

“This is an unintended consequence,” Abramson told The Associated Press. “We didn’t even know about the law.”

Abramson, chair of the pediatrics department at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, said he supports Gardasil for its potential benefits to women and girls, but believes it should be optional.

Amen.  If this rule is not amended, it will serve as a punishing tax reserved for immigrant women.  It also raises all kinds of suspicions in my paranoid feminist mind, suspicions about the bodies of poor brown women being subjected to medical experimentation against their will.  Professor BW wrote about this very thoroughly here–and don’t say “it can’t happen here,” because it can, and it probably does more often than we hear about.


October 4th 2008
Assess this

Posted under jobs & students

We had quite an interesting conversation this summer about Centers for Teaching and Learning, and their evil twin timewaster, “assessment.”  For those of you who aren’t yet in the know, “assessment” is an administrative exercise in which faculty have to find data to prove that their departments and programs are effectively educating students. 

Never mind that your department has 600 majors despite having only 24 tenure lines.  Never mind that you, all of you, several times a semester administer quizzes, tests, and essay assignments to your students, which you then “assess” so that you can assign them “grades.”  Never mind that you take all of those graded assignments and use them in your individual, personalized assessment of each student at the end of the term, which you deliver in the form of a “final grade.”  Never mind that a whole bunch of your majors manage to graduate every year, and that they’re replaced by even greater numbers of enthusiastic majors.  That’s not enough evidence that you’re doing your job!  No, you have to find “data” outside of numbers of majors, the grades they receive, and their graduation rates.

Well, I have nothing new or more positive to offer than this incisive critique of assessment by an anonymous faculty member at a large Southeastern university (via Rate Your Students–stop me if you’ve heard this one before!)

The money quote is at the end:

The appetite for data is only strong when the decisions about power and paradigm have already been made.

Those of you who have been roped into assessment excercises before will know exactly what that means.  What I want to know is:  what other industries demand “assessment” beyond the obvious proof that products are being produced and/or sold, clients are being served, buildings and roads are being built up and torn down, and that money is being made.  Is it because our work doesn’t have an obvious bottom-line monetary value that we’re forced to engage in these redundant exercises that take time away from our time and energy to serve students, publish research, and improve our teaching by reading a recently published book or two?  Just asking.


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