Archive for July, 2009

July 22nd 2009
What is good teaching, and how can we know it?

Posted under jobs & students

poitiertosirwithlovePrompted by our discussion on Monday about “Teaching and tenure:  what counts (and what’s good?),” and by Dr. Crazy’s point that we ended up not “actually talking about how to evaluate teaching” on that thread.  She asks, “[s]o I’m wondering: taking the student evaluation bull$hit out of the equation, what makes good teaching? How do we determine that?”  To tell the truth, when I posed that question Monday, “what is good teaching?”, it was more a rhetorical question than one for which I have a clear answer.  After all, so many of us teach so many different subjects to so many different kinds of students at so many different kinds of institutions that pedagogies are nearly infinitely variable. 

So just to get our discussion rolling, I propose that good teaching shall be known by these three paramount qualities:  Continue Reading »


July 20th 2009
Skip Gates arrested for being indignant in his own home! Historiann left peacefully to her own indignation.

Posted under American history & Intersectionality & jobs & race & unhappy endings & wankers


Man–you faculty and grad student types think you had a bad day fighting the forces of evil with trenchent observations about the historiography of the Indians of the Great Basin, and witty bons mots about the Investiture Controversy?  Via The Daily Beast, Eminent Harvard African American Studies Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. was arrested last Thursday afternoon when police investigated a report that someone was trying to break into a house on Ware Street in Cambridge, Mass.  The Boston Globe reported tonight:

Police arrived at Gates’s Ware Street home near Harvard Square at 12:44 p.m. to question him. Gates, director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard, had trouble unlocking his door after it became jammed.

He was booked for disorderly conduct after “exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior,” according to a police report. Gates accused the investigating officer of being a racist and told him he had “no idea who he was messing with,” the report said.

 Gates told the officer that he was being targeted because “I’m a black man in America.” [To read a copy of the police report, click here]

Friends of Gates said he was already in his home when police arrived. He showed his driver’s license and Harvard identification card, but was handcuffed and taken into police custody for several hours last Thursday, they said.

Man, oh, man–who wouldn’t be pi$$ed off for getting the third degree in one’s own home, after showing identification?  Yeah, that happened to me all of the time when my white self lived in Somerville and Cambridge…the police were just bustin’ down doors and interrogating white grad students and Harvard faculty every day.  (And what’s with the nosy neighbor who somehow isn’t nosy enough to be capable of recognizing her own neighbors?)  Apparently familiar with the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Professor Gates has retained the services of “Harvard Law School professor Charles Ogletree, who has taken on previous cases with racial implications.”  Right on.

If you have a minute to click and read the Boston Globe article:  scroll on down to the comments, where you’ll be instructed by the colorful denizens of the non-peer reviewed world-wide timewasting internets that Continue Reading »


July 20th 2009
Teaching and tenure: what counts (and what’s good?)

Posted under jobs

everythingcountsdepechemodeWell, if you teach in a Ph.D.-granting institution, what counts is research, and if you teach in a bachelor’s degree-only institution, it’s teaching.  With apologies to Depeche Mode, notEverything Counts, in Large Amounts.”  This unsurprising result is brought to you by a national survey of Political Science departments, published in the most recent edition of PS:  Political Science and Politics, and reported by Inside Higher Ed.

A national survey of department chairs found that superior research compensates for “mediocre teaching” at 55 percent of Ph.D. granting institutions, compared to 34 percent of master’s institutions and 17 percent of bachelor’s institutions. A contrasting split is evident at bachelor’s institutions — although many of them do not claim that their faculty are committed to research. At 64 percent of bachelor’s institutions, superior teaching would compensate for mediocre research, while that’s the case for 38 percent of master’s institutions and 14 percent of doctoral institutions.

.        .       .         .        .        .       .         .        .        .       .         .       

Departments from different sectors share some approaches to evaluating teaching. Overwhelming majorities across sectors report using teaching evaluations, teaching portfolios, syllabi, and peer review of teaching by other faculty members. But department chairs or deans are much more likely to be involved in peer review of teaching at bachelor’s institutions than doctoral universities. For instance, 69 percent of chairs reported doing peer review of teaching at bachelor’s institutions, compared to 27 percent at doctoral institutions. For peer review by deans or senior administrators, the figures were 31 percent for bachelor’s institutions and 3 percent at doctoral.

This survey appears to be a relatively blunt instrument, because I think the more interesting questions are:  1)  What kind of teaching are we talking about:  survey classes, upper-division elective courses, or master’s or Ph.D.-level seminars?, and 2) in any case, how do we know what is good teaching?  Continue Reading »


July 19th 2009
Sunday round-up: Rodeo Days edition

Posted under American history & childhood & GLBTQ & jobs & local news & race & students & unhappy endings & weirdness

CD18CHEYENNEFRONTIERDAYSWho can resist “The Grandaddy of ‘Em All?” It’s high rodeo season out here on the high plains desert–check out this bareback rider, courtesy of the Denver Post.  There’s a reason you don’t meet too many rodeo cowboys over the age of 21–especially not the bull riders.  (One exception:  calf-roping teams frequently feature “senior citizens,” by which I mean, men in their 30s, 40s, or even 50s, many of whom do a brother act or a father-son act.)  The African American Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo usually rolls through town later in the summer.  Unfortunately, I missed the Colorado Gay Rodeo last weekend in Golden, and (shockingly!) Potterville’s own Stampede because of my recent travels.  Although Cheyenne Frontier Days is supposedly “the Grandaddy of ‘Em All,” the Stampede is bigger, better, and beats ‘em every year, fair & square.  (We’ve got much better food at our rodeo–pork chops on sticks, roasted sweet corn brushed with butter, and lotsa barbecue.) 

Now, for some less cheerful news:  I’ve got some updates on the UNC Predator Proffie, Vance Fulkerson, that we’ve been following here at Historiann, all from the Denver Post this morning.  To wit:  Continue Reading »


July 18th 2009
Talk about, um, constitutionality…

Posted under American history & students & unhappy endings & wankers

This is funny–funny ha-ha as well as funny-awkward. Via Corrente, a couple of satirists attended a class taught by John Yoo at Berkeley:

Who are the students in his classes, and why are they protesting the protesters? Would you take a class taught by Charles Taylor? How about Augusto Pinochet? (Well, would you have, when he was alive?) How embarassing is it that it’s Australian rather than American people who did this? It’s like academia is the last refuge of right-wing scoundrels these days. Continue Reading »


July 17th 2009
Lessons for Girls #14: Don’t just ask, insist on help

Posted under Berkshire Conference & class & Gender & jobs & students

Howling for help!

Yesterday’s post on “Mentors and mentoring:  whose responsibility?” got Sisyphus thinking about her grad school days, and the ways in which gender and class work in relationships between students and their mentors.  In a post called “Don’t just ask, insist on help (even if it makes you feel weird),” fourteenth in our popular series, Lessons for Girls, Sisyphus writes that a roommate of hers, “Brilliant Grad,” was in the same program as she but he appeared to have a totally different relationship with the faculty in their department because of his attitude of entitlement:

Brilliant Grad knows he is brilliant. People have told him so, and he has wildly succeeded in everything he has ever tried. And he works damn hard so that he can do what he wants to do. . . .

Brilliant Grad and I loved to talk and would constantly share stories. It was through him I realized that my parents’ working-class upbringings flavored a lot of my experience, and through me that he realized he was not middle class, but upper class. He went to an elite east coast prep school. I learned that there is an entire east coast class of people who think “everyone” goes to east coast prep schools. . . .

Brilliant Grad also went to a top-of-the-line liberal arts school, one you’ve all heard of I bet (I hadn’t, heh). I know he didn’t work through school; I don’t think he ever worried about how it would be paid for. He constantly told me stories of the cool things he and his friends did, created, wrote, filmed — everything. And he seemed to have strong, even intimate relationships with all of his professors.

So when he would come home and tell me something that Professor Wonderful said to him in his office, or how he had had this idea and knocked on his door to run it by him, if not daily, then every few days, I was confused. “Wow, how often do you go see him? Aren’t you … bothering him?” I’d ask. “No — isn’t that what he’s there for, to mentor us? What?” he asked as I continued to stare at him with an eyebrow raised, shocked. Profs are here to do $hitloads of research, not shoot the breeze with their grad students. I know I don’t go to my advisor unless I have a specific problem that I need her help with and I have already tried three different ways of solving it on my own.

So, what was the result of BG’s breezily peer-like–or brashly demanding?–relationship with the faculty in his and Sisyphus’s department? Continue Reading »


July 16th 2009
Mentors and mentoring: whose responsibility?

Posted under jobs & students

Were you mentored, or raised by wolves?

Whose responsibility is it to mentor junior faculty?  Some departments assign them an official “mentor” in their department, whereas others don’t.  There is some good do-it-yourself advice on “Finding Mentors” at Inside Higher Ed today that should be read by students and junior faculty alike.  Come to think of it, it might be of use to tenured faculty as well.  The somewhat exhausting fact of the matter is that tenure and promotion–even promotion to Professor–aren’t the end of the line, if you want to be active in your field nationally or internationally.  Everyone needs to stay active, make new friends, nurture ongoing professional friendships, and self-promote, to some extent.  (Fortunately for me, that’s one of my favorite parts of my job!)

Does your department assign mentors to incoming faculty?  What do you think of that kind of system?  I was talking to someone recently about this, and ze thought that it was a really effective way to help people strategize about publications–the faculty mentors’ main charge was to keep their mentees engaged in research and writing, and to help them figure out which journals or publishers would be appropriate.  In my first job, the department I joined had considered instituting a formal mentorship program, because over 13 years they had failed to tenure any of the previous four occupants in the line I was hired to fill.  But as I understood it, their conversations devolved into concerns about legal liability–could an unsuccessful tenure candidate sue hir mentor?  Would the mentor or the department be liable for bad advice?  Continue Reading »


July 15th 2009
Why does the NL stink up the joint, year after year?

Posted under American history & fluff

americanleaguelogoFull disclosure:  I’m an American League snob.  I grew up near Tiger Stadium, and lived in eastern AL towns while pursuing my education (Boston and Baltimore)–I like to leave out those three years I lived within a subway ride of the Vet in Philadelphia.  And, oh yeah–the Yankees s^ck, but I never got into the partisan rivalry between the Phillies and the Mets.  I live closest now to a National League team–the Colorado Rockies–but aside from their Cinderella season in 2007, they’ve been consistent under-performers since they debuted in 1994.  (I’ve never been to a game at Coors Field myself–not out of principle, but rather lack of interest.)

So, why can’t the NL manage to win an All-Star gameContinue Reading »


July 14th 2009
Dean Dad makes you a counteroffer you can’t refuse: zilch!

Posted under jobs

emptypocketsGo read Dean Dad on counteroffers, and why he supports his community college’s policy of not offering them to faculty or staff who get other job offers.  He’s careful to specify that his support for the anti-counteroffer policy is dependent on his context at a CC:  “nobody really comes here to study under so-and-so. Our faculty don’t bring in the mega-grants, and for the most part, we wouldn’t have the infrastructure to support them if they did.”  But, the objections he raises to counteroffers seems like it would apply to most of us non-superduperstar faculty toiling away at state and regional universities:  “Other employees quickly get the message, and system-gaming becomes a full-time job.  Loyalty is punished, performance ignored, and internal equity simply forgotten in the stampede.”   

I’m sympathetic to this argument–I have applied for jobs and even got a second job while still at my first job, and although I’ve never had a counteroffer, I dream of the day. . . but Dean Dad’s objection to counteroffers, although noble, seems idealistic in the extreme.  Continue Reading »


July 13th 2009
Where in the world was Historiann?

Posted under American history & fluff & happy endings & local news

mayflowermohawklakeWell, from this photo on the right, you’d think I might have been in the Eastern U.S. this weekend.  Mayflowers?  Mowhawks?  What the heck, since I was in fact near my own home sweet ranch here in Colorado! 

All I can think is that when many of the trails in national parks were named around the turn of the previous century, it was also the time of the Colonial Revival and Playing Indian, as Phil DeLoria has described it.  Plus, plopping Eastern names on Western places was a way of extending concepts of (Anglo) American sacred space to the newly conquered West.  I wonder if any recent graduates with quality training in Public History and/or who have worked with the National Park Service might weigh in on this question…?  All I can guess is that it probably felt a lot less threatening to name a lake in the Rockies after Mowhawks instead of Utes, Cheyennes, or Arapahoes.  Continue Reading »


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