In today's Academic Minute, Jason Kalirai, associate researcher at the Center for Astrophysical Sciences at Johns Hopkins University, discusses the deepest of deep space studies. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.
Strokes affect hundreds of thousands of Americans each year. For professors, who make a living speaking with authority for long periods of time, the road back -- to the classroom or research or both -- is long.
The Middle East Studies Association has written to U.S. and Israeli authorities protesting recent Israeli raids on several Palestinian university campuses. The letter states that Israeli authorities have been attacking nonviolent protest and seizing student property. The letter acknowledges that Israel has in recent weeks been searching for three kidnapped Israeli youth (who have since been found, murdered). But the association says that it believes that "collective punishment against educational institutions and their students are never acceptable and cannot be justified." Israeli authorities have said that their military actions in the West Bank in recent weeks had been to try to located the kidnapped youths or to gather intelligence about them.
Faculty members in science and engineering at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor say the overall work climate has improved significantly since 2001 – but change took that long to manifest, according to a new report. The climate survey was first conducted in 2001 as part of the university’s ADVANCE program to promote women and underrepresented faculty members. The program includes a network for women scientists to prevent women in mostly-male departments from feeling isolated, as well as a mentoring program for new faculty members.
There was little improvement in overall climate reported in a subsequent 2006 survey, but in 2012 – survey data for which was only recently released – faculty members report statistically significant gains in the general climate and climate for diversity in their departments. Faculty members described a more civil work environment and white women and white men and men of color reported hearing fewer disparaging comments about women. All faculty members reported overhearing fewer disparaging comments about racial or ethnic minorities or religious groups. Women of color also reported higher levels of job satisfaction, and all women reported more satisfaction with the level of social interactions shared with fellow professors.
Not all data was rosy, however. Women still report more gender discrimination than their male colleagues, and faculty members of color report unchanged rates of racial-ethnic discrimination.
Janet Malley, director of research and evaluation at the university, said that change takes time is the project’s biggest takeaway. Improving climate is “a long-term project, so one shouldn’t perhaps expect to see dramatic changes in five years – but in 10 years, maybe.”
Malley said change takes a “concerted effort on the part of the administration and faculty,” but that Michigan’s ADVANCE program easily could be exported to other institutions wanting to tackle climate issues.
Public higher education unions dodged a bullet Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a group of home health care workers who mainly take care of their own family members in Illinois don’t have to pay union dues if they don’t want to. Plaintiffs in the case, Harris v. Quinn, sought the larger goal of ending exclusive representation and mandatory union dues for public employees generally, but Justice Samuel Alito in reading the opinion of the court said that the ruling applied only to this special class of “partial-public employees.” (The court, in a five-four vote, said that requiring these loosely affiliated state employees to pay union dues when they didn’t want to was a violation of their First Amendment rights.) Alito indicated, however, that the longstanding precedents in favor of mandatory union agency fees for public employees were based on “questionable foundations” – which many observers took to mean that the court would be open to revisiting the broader issue of open union shops at some point in the future.
William Herbert, executive director of the Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining and Higher Education and the Professions at Hunter College of the City University of New York, said a decision that overturned the closed shop concept in the public sector more broadly would have “destabilized” labor relations and collective bargaining nationwide. But, based on Monday’s ruling, faculty collective bargaining is not immediately affected, he said. Advocates of agency fees -- which are required in 26 states, including Illinois -- say that they protect unions from "freeloaders" who would benefit from but not contribute to their cause, and keep the unions on sound financial footing.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement that while the court “upheld the importance of collective bargaining and unions to families and communities, let’s be clear that working people, who have aspired to the middle class and tried to make a better life for their families, have taken it on the chin for years. Stagnating wages, loss of pensions and lack of upward mobility have defined the economic distress they have experienced. Today’s decision makes it worse.”
Nine years ago I wrote a column for Inside Higher Ed entitled “The Professor as Personal Trainer.”Back then I was A.B.D., adjuncting, and had basically never exercised in my life. Today, I’m a middle-aged, tenured professor and I’ve hired a personal trainer to try to get in shape. Now that I actually am a professor, and really do work with a personal trainer, how does my original piece hold up?
I still stand by a lot of what I said in the original piece: Education is not a commodity that can be bought and sold, but is a process of personal transformation. Student learning is the student’s responsibility, not the teacher’s. It requires commitment outside the classroom, not just in it. And, I maintained then (as now), the best "job skills" we can give our students are the generalized capacities cultivated by a liberal arts education.
But I’ve also learned a lot. Some of it I learned working with my trainer, and some of it has come to me as I grew into my profession. For instance, I’ve come to value concision in writing, and I cringe now when I look at how deep I buried the lead in my original article.
In some ways, however, my views have shifted. In 2005 I argued that students didn’t know what they wanted when they sought to be educated. I’m not quite sure I agree with this today. Today I think my students and I do have a concrete idea of what and when we seek to become “educated” or “fit.” What we lack is not a sense of the what, but the how: the means by which to improve.
Getting fit has been transformative for me. Sure, I’ve learned to keep my weight on my heels when I hit the squat rack. But it’s also taught me how to think about nutrition, movement, posture and my daily routine. Learning to exercise involved major culture shock -- and I say this as an anthropologist whose work has sent him to the highlands of Papua New Guinea. It started before I even set foot in the gym. Just buying the right kind of workout shoes involved immersing myself in a kind of masculine culture that’s always been alien to me.
This experience has helped me realize what it is like for my students – particularly those who didn’t grow up in the white middle class, which is most of them -- to enter college. I’ve gotten so used to doing university work that I’ve forgotten how strange and disheartening it can be. Hopefully, this experience will help keep me empathetic.
So getting fit has meant testing unknown waters. But it’s also reaffirmed a lot of what I’ve already known. The culture of fitness has a huge pop-psychological component focused on commitment, motivation, inspiration as well as a slightly more kinky side focused on fighting through the pain, conquering, enduring, and so forth. In the past, I couldn’t tell the difference between websites about losing weight and Onion articles lampooning websites about losing weight. But after a little committing, enduring, persevering myself I have come to see that the idioms of fitness are just another way of discussing familiar academic virtues.
My students often ask me how I can live my life reading boring, poorly written books. I’ve never been sure how to answer since, let’s be honest, a tremendous amount of academic work is boring and poorly written. Now I have an answer! You have to push though the pain and persevere, never relent and keep fighting, if you want to get mentally strong. Never give up. Never surrender. Previously, I thought this was a cliché from Galaxy Quest. Now I know it’s about Deleuze. Working out has helped me understand my intellectual regimen in a new way.
I’ve learned a lot from my trainer about teaching, and from the other guys in my workout group about learning. When I say I have a “personal” trainer, that’s not quite right. I actually work out in a small group with three other guys, since an actual personal trainer is ridiculously expensive. Working out with people who are further along than me gives me a strong sense of what I’m supposed to look as I progress -- and it also helps confirm that the current amount I’m benching is, in fact, peanuts. I suppose they put things into perspective for me.
My trainer has also been great. Although professors are right to rail against the retailification of teaching, we might actually learn something from someone who actually gets paid by their students to help them improve! In our rush to defend our prerogatives we may accidentally dismiss the value of being supportive and considerate (even indulgent) of our student’s needs. And of course, it's just valuable to watch another teacher at work -- something that rarely happens in the academy.
I’m still beginning the process of becoming a healthier person. Like, really really beginning. But my experience with my trainer has confirmed for me what I originally learned dabbling in the performing arts: Although Seneca excluded wrestling and other “knowledge that is compounded of oil and mud” from the liberal arts, any attempt to educate the whole person should recognize that that person is, importantly, a body.
More then that: I think my liberals arts education has taught me to imagine my trainer as a professor, to imagine me as a student, to take lessons learned from dancing and transfer them to lifting weights, and to find the familiar in the strange. Would I be able to bring this capacity to my workouts if I hadn’t gotten a broad, general education? I hope so, but frankly I don’t think so. But then again, maybe it’s something I could learn from my trainer. After all, he went to a liberal arts college himself.