“The Typical Community College Professor”

Over at the Chronicle of Higher Education, Rob Jenkins wrote a column that is thoroughly annoying in its overgeneralization and stereotyping. There is so much that is so wrong in there  that I need to go over it point by point.

The main thesis of the column is this:

“My experience as a faculty member at two-year colleges, while generally quite positive, has not been all sweetness and light. One negative is what I’ve come to think of as “Claggart Syndrome.”

In Herman Melville’s novella, Billy Budd, the master-at-arms aboard the HMS Bellipotent — on which seaman Billy Budd has been impressed — is named John Claggart. Although Billy is beloved by the captain and crew for his good looks, his physical prowess, and his naturally sunny disposition, for some reason he arouses Claggart’s fierce hatred. Most readers quickly deduce that Claggart, himself a mean and miserable little man, is simply jealous of Billy’s appearance and abilities, not to mention the esteem in which the other crew members hold him (and in which they fail to hold Claggart).

“Claggart Syndrome,” then, is characterized by petty jealousy and irrational hatred. If you’ve taught at a community college for more than a few years, you’ve probably encountered that sort of thing — especially if you’ve accomplished anything of note beyond the narrow confines of your campus.”

I very much doubt that petty jealousy and irrational hatred (pretty strong words) are limited to community colleges or even academia or even professional settings. To start something with such a sweeping statement, you know things are going to go downhill fast.

First of all, Jenkins very obviously looks down upon the job of a community college faculty (I know, I know, he is one, but so what?):

“The core job responsibilities of a community-college faculty member are to teach your classes, advise your students, and serve on committees, and those are all worthwhile activities. Doing them conscientiously, over time, can bring well-deserved recognition, perhaps in the form of campus-based awards that will be perfectly acceptable to your peers.

But for faculty members who want to accomplish more than that in their professional lives, who want (and have the ability) to write highly regarded books or conduct meaningful research — well, quite frankly, a community college might not be the best place.”

Those who can’t research / write / publish, teach at community colleges. Because, according to this description, the job is not very rewarding so one has to find their own intrinsic rewards with low prestige beyond local awards. Meaningful stuff gets done someplace else. This is, of course, the commonsense view of higher education hierarchy in the United States, with elite institutions at the top, R1-type place, and then down the ladder where community colleges reside. In Jenkins’s world, there is no room for people who might actually choose teaching as a vocation or who have greater interest in teaching than researching. No, only the losers teach, because they have no other choice.

So, anyone working at a community college has to be harboring frustrations and grudge and grievances, turned outward against those colleagues that do accomplish meaningful things; that is the Claggart syndrome, the losers resenting the more competent.

And then comes this brilliant, completely unsupported insight:

“The roots of Claggart Syndrome lie in the fact that community-college faculty members, almost by definition, are generally not great scholars, writers, or scientists, even though they might have dreamed at some point of making such noteworthy contributions.

And that’s fine, because you don’t have to be a great scholar, writer, or scientist to be successful at a community college. You just have to be a great teacher. The vast majority of my colleagues are completely at peace with the direction their lives have taken, happy and fulfilled in their teaching, their service, and their interactions with students.”

My first response to this was initially “speak for yourself, Jenkins.”

Again, let me reiterate that at no point in the column / post does Jenkins provide any evidence for the statement above. None. Nothing. Zilch. Que dalle (as we would say in French).

What a completely uninformed view of community college faculty.

To be a great teacher does involve scholarship and pretty solid one. You cannot be a great teacher if you don’t keep on top of things in your discipline. That means you cannot afford the specialization that faculty pursue at more prestigious places. Since we teach a lot of survey courses, we have to know a lot about a lot. And because we teach a lot, and at undergraduate levels, we get confronted and questioned a lot as well. That means, we have to have the full mastery and scholarship and think quick on our feet.

We do publish. We do write books and articles. We do contribute to conferences and professional associations. We are an integral part of the intellectual communities of our disciplines because we are a major point of entry in these disciplines. A lot of undergraduate students will have their first contact with a discipline in a community college class.

And teaching IS scholarship. There is extensive scholarship ON teaching that we have to master as well. I remember my French university professors what passed for teaching then, and I could never get away with that. So, what are we to do… we study teaching just like we study our own disciplines. We research about it, we publish about it, we write about it, we apply the research and scholarship as one would do to any intellectual / academic project.

One cannot be a great teacher if one is not a great scholar. The institutional and organizational constraints and structures of rewards simply do not permit that to reach the same level of visibility that is available to others at non-cc institutions.

We are scholars.

We may not produce the same quantity of publications that people at other institutions do, for institutional reasons, but it is more to our credit, isn’t it. As for good writing, well, I don’t think academic publishing is a bastion of that, especially for peer-reviewed articles.

One wonders, with such shoddily constructed posts, whether The Chronicle is just engaging in linkbait just as they did in their previous controversy on Black Studies.


Adventures in College Teaching – Plagiarism… Again

(Via) You must read this disheartening and dispiriting account by Panos Ipeirotis on his discovery that over 20% of his students plagiarized. Bottom line? He busted them, but that took an enormous amount of time (45 hours… which incidentally is the number of hours of instruction in my classes for a 3-credit class). It got him lower scores on his student evaluations (duh, you must them, they make you pay for it, but where I work, student evaluations are critical for promotion and tenure, and essential for adjunct faculty), which hurt his salary and not much support from his administrators.

“When 1 out of 5 students in the class being involved in a cheating case, the lectures and class discussions became awkward. For the rest of the semester there was a palpable anxiousness in class. Instead of having friendly discussions, the discussions became contentious. Not a pleasant environment.

This, of course, had a direct effect to my teaching evaluations. Instead of the usual evaluations that were in the region of 6.0 to 6.5 out of seven, this time my ratings went down by almost a point: 5.3 out of 7.0. Instead of being a teacher in the upper percentiles, I was now below average.

The Dean’s office and my chair “expressed their appreciation” for me chasing such cases (in December), but six months later, when I received my annual evaluation, my yearly salary increase was the lowest ever, and significantly lower than inflation, as my “teaching evaluations took a hit this year”.”

His chasing down the cheaters also destroyed class morale and atmosphere:

“Was it worth it? Absolutely not.

Not only I paid a significant financial penalty for “doing the right thing” (was I?) but I was also lectured by some senior professors that I “should change slightly my assignments from year to year”. (Thanks for the suggestion, buddy, this is exactly how I detected the cheaters.)

Suggestions to change completely the assignments from year to year are appealing on the first sight but they cause others types of problems: It is very difficult to know in advance if an assignment is going to be too easy, too hard, or too ambiguous. Even small-scale testing with TA’s and other faculty does not help. You need to “test” the new assignment by giving it to students. If it is a good one, you want to keep it. If it is a bad one, you just gave to the students a useless exercise.

I also did not like the overall teaching experience, and this was the most important thing for me. Teaching became annoying and tiring. There was a very different dynamic in class, which I did not particularly enjoy. It was a feeling of “me-against-them” as opposed to the much more pleasant “these things that we are learning are really cool!””

Will I pursue cheating cases in the future? Never, ever again!”

I may have mentioned it before, but where I work, plagiarism is epidemic. So, in a way, I am somewhat “glad” to realize that it’s not “my” students. It’s all over the place. Why? A variety of cultural and institutional reasons.

Degradation of the meaning of education and higher education not only in the culture in general but from within academia itself, where college president and administrators are all about the bottom line: boost enrollment, high retention, maximize tuition, education as job training, a bunch of hoops students should jump through to get that degree (or even better, that vocational certificate… takes less time, costs less money) for higher income.

In that context, there is limited interest in education as, you know, education. Certainly, all colleges and universities have student codes of conduct, but the actual enforcement is just trivial. Administrators usually dislike doing that kind of work and institutional sanctions tend to be of the “slap-on-the-wrist” kind.

As Ipeirotis’s account shows, chasing down cheaters leads to one thing: one major headache and time-sink for the faculty. And I agree that the ” me-against-them” mentality that necessarily develops makes teaching difficult and painful as some basic trust between faculty and students has been broken. A mistrustful environment is not conducive to good teaching or learning as assignments become designed not necessarily to achieve some specific educational goal but to be cheating-proof (not that these two things are necessarily incompatible).

So, is the solution NOT to chase down cheaters? Personally, I think that any student who cheats takes me for an idiot, cheapens the institution I work for and debases the knowledge of the discipline I work hard to convey to them. They should not be rewarded with academic credit. And, of course, every grade not earned contributes to grade inflation.

I should also note that plagiarism also seems to ride the wave of online instruction with their standardized courses, but these generate so much money that there is no real concern about the amount of plagiarism going on there. After all, which college of university would accept a lowering in enrollment as it tightens its standards? Would parents accept to have their children thrown out when caught plagiarizing?

I would have to say that, right now, the cultural climate favors cheating and its tolerance.

Institutional Discrimination and Passive Racism

Here again, individual discrimination (active, individual racism) is easy to spot and mostly socially unacceptable in most Western societies. However, harder to detect and more devastating in its social effects is institutional discrimination. Institutional discrimination is discrimination in results, that is, discrimination as result of a multitude of institutional practices engaged in by a variety of individuals who are not necessarily individually racist themselves.


“Leading black academics are calling for an urgent culture change at UK universities as figures show there are just 50 black British professors out of more than 14,000, and the number has barely changed in eight years, according to data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

Only the University of Birmingham has more than two black British professors, and six out of 133 have more than two black professors from the UK or abroad. The statistics, from 2009/10, define black as Black Caribbean or Black African.

Black academics are demanding urgent action and argue that they have to work twice as hard as their white peers and are passed over for promotion.

A study to be published in October found ethnic minorities at UK universities feel “isolated and marginalised”.

Heidi Mirza, an emeritus professor at the Institute of Education, University of London, is demanding new legislation to require universities to tackle discrimination.

Laws brought in last month give employers, including universities, the option to hire someone from an ethnic minority if they are under-represented in their organisation and are as well-qualified for a post as other candidates. This is known as positive action. Mirza wants the law amended so that universities are compelled to use positive action in recruitment.

She said there were too many “soft options” for universities and there needed to be penalties for those that paid lip-service to the under-representation of minorities. Positive discrimination, where an employer can limit recruitment to someone of a particular race or ethnicity, is illegal.

The HESA figures show black British professors make up just 0.4% of all British professors – 50 out of 14,385.

This is despite the fact that 2.8% of the population of England and Wales is Black African or Black Caribbean, according to the Office for National Statistics. Only 10 of the 50 black British professors are women.”

This means that there are a series of unacknowledged expectations put on Black academics that limit their access to promotion as well as a lack of social network to rely on (so, no benefit from the strength of weak ties). And because this form of discrimination is largely invisible and harder to detect, it is often ignored if not denied as a lot of people think individual discrimination is the only form of discrimination that exists.

And note the double whammy for Black women.

This is also why positive (or affirmative) actions are the best remedy for institutional discrimination, as they tackle institutional issues (discrimination in result) and force institutions to review processes that are otherwise taken for granted and never questioned.

ASA 2009

I am flying out early tomorrow morning to the ASA Annual meeting. As I did last year, I will be writing reports on the sessions I attend. This time, I am bringing my camera, so it will be reports + photos! I am not really all that interested in this year’s topic (to be frank it reeks a bit too much of Obama, as you all know, I am not a fan and the first 200 days have not changed my opinion), but there are quite a few sessions that seem interesting.

So, off to San Francisco it is, assuming the airline industry cooperates!

Book Review – The Violence of Hate

VofH I hve just finished reviewing Jack Levin’s The Violence of Hate – Confronting Racism, Anti-Semitism, and Other Forms of Bigotry (website) for its publisher. It is a short and interesting book that is probably more adapted to criminal justice courses than strictly sociology. It is well-written with a lot of examples and stories, and therefore highly readable for undergraduates. Anyone above that level will probably be frustrated.

Despite the inclusive title (but then why are racism and anti-semitism singled out?), the book deal mainly with racial and ethnic issues. Other forms of bigotry (as mentioned in the title) get a really short shrift. There is very little on misogyny or homophobia. Often, when these are mentioned, it is to indicate that racist and anti-semitic prejudices and social psychological mechanisms involved in such prejudices are similar when it comes to women and LGBTs. I understand that to deal thoroughly with gender issues in a broad would require a much longer book, but then, the title should reflect that and limit itself to "confronting racial and ethnic prejudice", that would be more accurate.

At the same time, when dealing with racial and ethnic prejudice, the book largely sticks to American issues. It is also, in my view, a major mistake. There are examples from other countries, of course, but that does not make a global perspective. A few comparisons here and there are just not enough. A quick look at conflicts around the world reveals a lot of ethnic dimensions whether as causes or consequences or both. Similarly, the book largely ignores the global rise of religious fundamentalism around the world and its role in ethnic prejudice, homophobia and misogyny not just in discourse but in practice.

Of course, if one teaches sociology or social psychology, there is little one will learn in this book, we are not the audience, so I won’t count reading yet again about Asch, Milgram and Zimbardo against the book. It is relevant. My issue is with the theory chapter. As a general rule, textbooks deal very very badly with theory. That section is often botched and it is no wonder that students do not get it.

Moreover, textbooks have a tendency to juxtapose one theory next to each other without really explaining their respective validity. Not all theories are equal. Some are better than others. And yet, we often get treated with things like "this is theory 1, it is largely macro, and critics say it ignores micro realities; then here is theory 2, it is micro and critics thinks it does not pay enough attention to macro factors." As a result, students do not get interested in theory, do not see why they should learn them or what a theory is for in the first place.

Unfortunately, this book is no exception in this pattern. Theories and perspectives that have been rather thoroughly debunked are still treated with kid gloves. The Bell Curve is garbage and one should not tapdance around that. The same goes with the Moynihan Report and other culture of poverty types of explanations. As with many textbooks, when I read this textbook, I really felt that the author did not enjoy doing it and did it only because it is a required chapter in all textbook. It comes across as a chore before going to the real stuff that the author is really interested in.

There is nothing really new or groundbreaking in this book. Personally, I get a lot more by reading David Neiwert’s blog on US hate groups. I do not necessarily fault the author for the lack of originality. Textbook publishers are afraid of innovation and they keep churning out textbooks that tend to be clones of each other. Part of me thinks that the textbook is obsolete when there are such great resources online. In this case, maybe, this book is the future, very short with just the basic background, and it would be up to the individual instructor to find additional resources elsewhere to make a course interesting.

This book is not for a Sociology of Violence course. It is not broad, global and thorough enough. It is good, though, as a introduction to explaining racial and ethnic prejudice.

The Labor Market for Sociologists… Down

I am intrigued by the "open search / more than one rank" category… if my college is any indication, it might mean position that were advertised but won’t be filled and yet, colleges have not closed the search. Or, as happened here again, the colleges and universities got smaller pools than usual and are keeping the searches open, waiting for the perfect candidate. (We were lucky, we did get the perfect candidate)

SocProf Supports William I. Robinson

[Updated below for more ugliness]

WIR William I. Robinson is one of my favorite sociologists on globalization. Bar none. His book, A Theory of Global Capitalism: Production, Class, and State in a Transnational World is one of the most thorough and fascinating account of globalization I have ever read. He is now under attack because of two students who found course materials offensive and are accusing him of anti-semitism.

I heard about this case via Doug Henwood’s blog (who does not pull punches either.

These charges are absurd and it would appear that in a rush to appease the students, the University has already violated its own process to investigate students’ grievances.

The course materials that Professor Robinson sent were absolutely appropriate for the content of his course (and the students do not get to decide that, nor other faculty) and the students were not required to agree with the position expressed in them.

Other students have rallied behind Professor Robinson and created a website where all documents related to the case (students complaints, ADL letter, Robinson’s responses, etc.) are post for all to see.

The UCSB students are fortunate to have a scholar of the caliber of William Robinson teaching there. There is a lot they can learn from him, his rigorous analysis of globalization and social conflicts, and his ability to make complex concepts crystal clear. He is a superb social theorist of globalization.


Why The Mainstream Media is Useless

Almost everyone in the soc blogosphere has been linking to a New York Times article talking about how bad the economy is for the academic labor market. Unfortunately, none of them exercised a bit of critical analysis. We have to rely on Marc Bousquet for that:

In other words, what we are seeing is just a worsening of a preexisting trend:

How Female Genital Mutilation Persists

It is a combination of factors: patriarchy, traditional rule, cowardice on the part of Western aids organizations, political convenience and just good old fashioned brutality against anyone who dares reporting on it or fighting it:

And it’s torture too in the name of controlling women’s sexuality:

And so, fighting against FGM is left to courageous local activists (mostly women) who risk their lives by speaking up.

So, Sierra Leone has the Bundu society, just like we have the "family values" crowd and Focus on the Family.

Sociologist as 8th Best Job in America

Don’t get me wrong, I have no complaints about my job as sociologist but I’m quite sure I work more than 45 hours (and that’s not even counting the blogging). I attribute this to the systematic underestimation of the number of hours academics work. Most people assume we just teach, so, our teaching hours are our working hours. Even for a community college faculty like me, whose main duty is teaching, one would have to add office hours, committee work (which can be quite extensive), prep hours, grading hours (and I’m a meanie, so, I give a lot of homework, which translate into a lot of hours of grading) and other miscellaneous stuff. That adds up to more than 45 hours.