Buying a Grade as the Perfect Holiday Gift

A little holiday humor courtesy of Donald Moynihan, professor of public affairs at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. On Twitter, he offered the perfect holiday gift:

And then he followed it up with:

Asked how he came up with the idea, Moynihan said, via email, "Came to me in my walk into work. Maybe it was the need to do holiday shopping. Or perhaps a deeper dread of the university being broke, and forced to monetize in ways that go against our better judgment."

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Suffolk U Breaks Ties With On-Campus Conservative Think Tank

Suffolk University is severing ties with the Beacon Hill Institute, a conservative research center funded in part by the conservative Koch Foundation, The Boston Globe reported. A university spokesman said it was the center’s decision to leave, but David Tuerck, center director, told the Globe that Suffolk made it impossible to stay on there by denying research proposals and limiting funding sources. Tuerck said the trouble peaked about six months ago, after Margaret McKenna, a political liberal, became Suffolk’s president. Greg Gatlin, a Suffolk spokesman, denied the change had anything to do with how the institution treated the center. Rather, he told the Globe, Suffolk requires research centers to be self-sustaining and Beacon Hill had run a deficit for years.

Suffolk’s relationship with Beacon Hill became strained in 2013, after the center proposed a study aimed at weakening a regional initiative to reduce carbon pollution, the Globe reported. The university said at the time that the goals of that research were not in line with its mission. Tuerck said, "The entire administration made up their mind that they were troubled by what we were doing in some way, where we were getting money, how we were using the money, what we were saying, and they wanted things to change."

While some have criticized the center for accepting donations from the Koch Foundation, Tuerck told the Globe that the center receives just 1 percent of its funds from the organization, or about $33,000 over three years. He said he wasn't opposed to reasonable limits on fund-raising, but that those imposed on the center had become too onerous. But Kalin Jordan, a Suffolk graduate and co-founder of the group UnKoch My Campus, said via email that that is potentially misleading, since Beacon Hill has received more than $800,000 from the notoriously antiregulation Kochs since 2008, based on a database of federal tax filings she helps maintain. The center will move off campus next year, in what Tuerck called an "amicable divorce."

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State College of Florida Faculty Votes No Confidence

The full-time faculty at State College of Florida at Manatee-Sarasota voted no confidence in the college’s Board of Trustees this week, the Bradenton-Herald reported. The 118-2 vote comes after the board’s recent decision to eliminate the college’s tenure-like system even over the objections of college administrators, and after a proposal by one board member to consider faculty pay bids -- something like a fee-for-service quote -- in hiring decisions.

Robyn Bell, a professor of music at the college and president of its Faculty Senate, said in a statement that the board’s recent vote was the “final straw in a long list of deeds and actions that have proven more harmful than helpful to our college. Such ideologically/politically driven decisions have been made without research or merit and attempt to govern a public institution of education as a private, corporate business.”

Carol Probstfeld, the college’s president, said in a separate statement, “We all agree that our students deserve the best possible faculty to provide an impactful and competitive education. We remain committed to hiring and retaining the best possible faculty.”

Craig Trigueiro, board chairman, said he wasn’t surprised by the vote but that the board stands by its decision to end continuing contracts, which previously afforded long-serving faculty members in good standing due process protections that were similar to those ensured by tenure. Trigueiro said professors’ fears that they’ll lose academic freedom under the new year-to-year contract system are misplaced, in that the board “has no intention of decreasing academic freedom,” the Herald reported. “We support academic freedom. A college or a university without academic freedom, in my opinion, is not a college or university.”

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A new academic book analyzes fans' reactions to Mad Men (essay)

Mad Men Unzipped: Fans on Sex, Love, and the Sixties on TV, from the University of Iowa Press, is not the first academic book devoted to the AMC series about hard-drinking, chain-smoking, decidedly nonmonogamous advertising executives in Manhattan in the 1960s. Not by a large margin: of the 14 titles on the program listed in the Library of Congress Catalog, 10 are from scholarly presses or otherwise manifestly professorial.

Unzipped is the ninth such title. Its senior author, Karen E. Dill-Shackleford, is a professor of psychology at Fielding Graduate University -- an accredited distance-learning program described on its website as offering graduate degrees in “the fields of clinical and media psychology, educational leadership, human development, and organizational development” -- and the other three authors also have some connection to Fielding. (For particulars, see the book's Facebook page.) Identifying themselves as “a team of media psychologists” who are also “members of the Mad Men audience,” they have “followed the show and the fans’ reactions to better understand both fandom generally and the Mad Men fan phenomenon particularly.”

Previous monographs treated Mad Men in its political, historical and philosophical dimensions, and there is already at least one effort to psychoanalyze the characters. With Unzipped, Dill-Shackleford et al focus on, in their own words, “the way people make sense of fictional stories and use what they learn to think about life” and “how the interactive world of social media allows us to contribute to the conversation.”

The authors announce their work as “cutting-edge psychological research on how fans make meaning from fictional drama.” The claim is too hyperbolic for its own good, considering that the study of fandom largely got underway with Henry Jenkins’s Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture (1992) and now has its own publication of record, the Journal of Fandom Studies, launched in 2013. On the first page of Mad Men Unzipped, the authors stress that they reject “the misguided stereotype of the geeky fan who has had a mental break with reality.” Fair enough, but that simply repeats the inaugural gesture of fandom research, which involved responding to William Shatner’s satirical dig at Trekkers with, “That’s not funny!” (to paraphrase very loosely).

Then again, distancing their attitude from “the misguided stereotype of the geeky fan” makes sense if we assume that the book is meant for an audience of psychology undergrads and Mad Men aficionados, rather than of initiates in fandom-studies research. In that respect, Unzipped is a good conversation starter about the relatively unproblematic condition of “being a fan” in the everyday, typical sense: someone who enjoys watching, thinking and talking about a program, whether or not he or she goes on to attend or host a theme party, write fiction based on the show’s characters, or the like.

Granted, the more ardent expressions of devotion do sometimes lead to strange and interesting subcultures. But it’s casual fans who are more common and, perhaps, more teachable -- that is, able to benefit from turning their enthusiasm for a particular show into an occasion to reflect on how and why it means something to them.

“In our digital era,” the authors of Unzipped write, “stories live in what are known as ‘transmedia spaces.’ Transmedia means that the story crosses from one medium to another (TV, blog, fan video, theater, app), playing itself out in different spaces.” That certainly has implications for media-psychology research itself -- creating “a new era of social science in action” now that “dragging college sophomores into a lab and forcing answers out of them” is no longer necessary. Fandom, even casual fandom, documents itself. The authors can survey the range of reactions to Mad Men’s characters (Pete Campbell: Man or boy?) or depictions of changing gender roles (Joan Holloway: Second-wave feminist avant la lettre?) with an abundance of blog posts, tweets and other digital records, often put out into public space before an episode ended.

The responses themselves are seldom very surprising, at least to anyone who has had a chance to discuss with another viewer the pleasures, frustrations and ambivalences of following the show’s arcs of character development and depictions of social change (not to mention their likely post-1970 fallout). There are occasional exceptions, such as the authors’ observation that “the fans had precious little to say about alcohol addiction that went beyond ‘that’s how it was in those days,’” although they did want to talk about sex addiction. Another quoted commenter pointed out, “While the writers show great complexity in their development of working women at a turning point, they do not seem to know what to do about motherhood.”

And interviews with viewers working in the advertising industry at various points over the past 50 years tended to evaluate Mad Men as an extremely accurate depiction of life in a major agency -- except for those who dismissed it as unrecognizable and soap opera-like. As with judgments of Don Draper’s character or Bert Cooper’s sanity, questions of historical realism here are in the eye of the viewer. The very nature of the evidence, and of the jury, is that no binding judgment can be made.

Media psychologists can show us that audiences bring diverse and complex emotions and presuppositions with them that imaginary characters and dramatic situations can then evoke. My belief that Sally Draper went on to join the Symbionese Liberation Army tells you something about her or about me -- possibly both. Our meaning-making capacities can and do respond to works of fictional narrative in ways that media psychologists can show and analyze.

The more interesting thing is that some narratives invite or even demand such an engagement from the public and get it. Others don’t; some don’t even try. What sets them apart from one another is a question with historical and aesthetic aspects, but it also has a component that it seems as if psychologists would want to take up.

And as a spin-off study, someone ought to do research into another matter. There are Mad Men Barbie dolls and tarot cards and many other such items -- including the Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook: Inside the Kitchens, Bars, and Restaurants of Mad Men. Why, for every such fan-oriented title, are there two aimed at an academic audience? With more to come, no doubt about it.

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'Mad Men' Barbies

Author discusses stone soup college social experiment

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It wasn't the Stanford Prison Experiment, but a research project at U of California San Diego quickly created two student societies and plenty of conflict to analyze.

How to help doctoral students complete their dissertations (essay)


The one thing that will actually lead to a completed dissertation, writes Kerry Ann Rockquemore, is the hardest thing for doctoral students to do.

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Hopkins Announces $25 Million Faculty Diversity Effort

Johns Hopkins University is the latest institution to announce a major faculty diversity initiative in light of the recent, nationwide student protests over campus race relations. President Ronald J. Daniels said in mid-November that the university was pursuing concrete ways to increase faculty diversity and earlier this week, Robert C. Lieberman, provost, along with nine academic deans, outlined a $25-million, five-year plan. Each academic division will establish protocols for faculty searchers to increase diversity in applicant pools, including unconscious bias training for search committee members and oversight of candidate short lists by division leaders. Individual schools within the university also will be encouraged to recruit senior faculty members from underrepresented groups. 

A Target of Opportunity Program stemming from an earlier initiative will offer up to $100,000 per faculty appointee to support recruitment of diverse faculty members beyond planned search cycles, and a new fund will support visiting faculty members who enhance on-campus diversity. A two-year Provost’s Diversity Postdoctoral Fellowship Program aims to prepare postdoctoral fellows for tenure-track positions on campus or at peer institutions, particularly in fields with relatively few women or underrepresented minorities. And the provost will offer a $50,000 award in each of the next five years to a full-time faculty member pursuing research related to diversity and inclusion. The plan includes data tracking and other accountability measures.

The initiative "will support our firm commitment to locate, attract, and retain the best and most talented faculty, representing a broad diversity of backgrounds, thought, and experiences," the provost and deans said in their announcement. "Each academic division of the university will develop and execute a detailed plan, tailored to its specific academic discipline, to enhance faculty diversity and cultivate an environment that is inclusive of diverse scholars.”

While the plan was finalized during the student protests, it’s been in the works for a year. Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy, vice provost for faculty affairs, assessed current trends, consulted with faculty and administration, and reviewed strategies and best practices, according to information from the university. 

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Wisconsin Faculty Leaders Oppose Draft Tenure Policy

Faculty leaders on three University of Wisconsin System campuses objected to proposed new tenure policies ahead of a systemwide task force meeting on the new guidelines Monday. In a letter sent last week to the system’s Tenure Policy Task Force, chapter presidents of the Madison, Milwaukee and Whitewater American Association of University Professors chapters said that current draft policies “separate faculty from their primary responsibility for educational concerns,” and generally fail to meet professional standards for tenure.

The policy changes come in light of the state Legislature’s vote earlier this year to weaken tenure standards for public university faculty in Wisconsin, which previously were arguably the strongest in the country. The changes made it legal for universities to lay off even tenured professors for so much as program “modifications,” and campus and system administrators have since said they’ll find a way to preserve in university policy what was lost in state law. But a draft of the proposed tenure policy doesn’t ensure that that layoffs would have to be subject to any kind of faculty approval. "It is clear that [the new law] has threatened the reputation of the [Wisconsin system] as a world-class institution of higher education by enabling policies that threaten academic freedom, tenure and shared governance," reads the AAUP letter.

At a meeting on Monday, the task force heard similar faculty concerns about the draft policy. The task force said it will meet again at the end of the month before sending its final recommendations to the university system’s Board of Regents. The Madison faculty last month approved tenure protections that ensure professors only may be laid off for educational considerations that have been vetted by faculty peers, but it’s unclear whether that policy can stand if the board approves a more limited one.

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Leonard Cassuto responds to Marc Bousquet on alt-ac careers (essay)

I had just finished teaching my freshman composition class one day not long ago when I learned that I was an enemy of my own work. In a recent article for Inside Higher Ed, Marc Bousquet accuses me of dismissing teaching-intensive positions, or “low-caste teaching,” as something that no graduate student really wants. As for full professors like me, well, our contempt should go without saying.

Bousquet, a well-known academic labor activist and a professor of film and media studies at Emory University, was addressing my position on alternative academic (alt-ac) careers for Ph.D.s. That position is laid out in detail in my new book, The Graduate School Mess: What Caused It and How We Can Fix It. I call on graduate school professors to teach career diversity in graduate school along with academic specialization. Bousquet says, in essence, that when we promote nonprofessorial jobs for graduate students, we divert attention from the exploitation that’s built into the graduate school system.

Bousquet imagines me as an adversary, but in fact we agree more than we differ. To begin with, we both see the academic workplace as deeply and structurally irrational. Attrition rates are unacceptably high -- 50 percent -- from doctoral programs, and few Ph.D.s find the professor jobs that they have been specifically trained to do.

Too many graduate students and Ph.D.s find cold comfort in the harsh world of contingent labor. They work belowdecks in introductory courses for low wages that sustain the bottom line at many public universities. Public and private university administrators alike opt for the flexibility of adjunct and off-ladder term labor to staff their classes.

For some reason Bousquet seems to believe that I disdain those laborers and the work that they do. But readers of The Graduate School Mess will know that I value introductory teaching -- and I do it myself. (Freshman teaching, including freshman comp, is a regular part of the teaching load at my campus.) In fact, I argue in the book that only through renewed respect for our teaching mission can we begin to reform our workplace.

Bousquet has long advocated for collective action to challenge these conditions -- and I agree with him. We need to push for tenure-track jobs over contingent labor. When labor and management can’t recognize their shared interest in stable, well-supported intellectual work, it’s time to organize.

But -- and here’s where we disagree -- I don’t think collective action is the only answer to the problems we face. As I tell my graduate student audiences around the country, individual action is important also. That means realism.

If you decide to go to graduate school in the arts and sciences, first make sure you get a fellowship that guarantees a full ride. Once you’re there, don’t imagine that a professor’s job is waiting for you when you graduate. Join the union, by all means. But also prepare for the full range of possible outcomes that await you. Isn’t that just common sense?

Bousquet has staged this as an either/or proposition: to contemplate alt-ac careers would compromise the struggle against injustice in the academic workplace. I don’t think these two alternatives need to be pitted against each other. After all, the union hall used to be a place for job training and skills acquisition along with agitating.

But there’s more to it. The idea that Ph.D.s should all wind up as professors distorts historical reality. Yes, full employment for any graduate student who could finish the doctorate once existed in the academy. That was true for just one generation, during the 1950s and ’60s. Burgeoning baby-boom populations and Cold War investment swelled higher education to sizes never before seen on American academic earth.

Before and after that brief period, Ph.D.s worked both inside and outside the university walls. Partly because that fully employed generation was the biggest in the history of American academe, it gave the whole profession a case of nostalgic amnesia: we thought that time of plenty was normal when, in fact, it was a historical anomaly.

There are lots of reasons -- political, social, administrative -- that higher education fell from that postwar paradise, but fall we did. The beneficiaries of that one generation of unprecedented academic prosperity are now in their seventies and eighties. It seems high time that we changed our assumptions to reflect the realities of our students and not their grandparents.

We therefore need to prepare our graduate students for the actual jobs that are waiting for them: not only professors’ jobs but also a whole diverse range of opportunities. Our graduate students know this. They want their graduate education to prepare them for the real world of experience that they -- and we -- live in. We have to do this for them, because they’ve trusted us with helping them to shape their professional lives.

So let’s change graduate school as well as the conditions of labor within it. The space between activism and pragmatic reform doesn’t have to be a chasm. We waste time when reformers fight each other instead of trying to change a workplace that they agree needs changing.

Leonard Cassuto, a professor of English and American studies at Fordham University, is the author of The Graduate School Mess: What Caused It and How We Can Fix It (Harvard University Press, 2015).

Alleged Serial Harasser No Longer at San Diego State

A tenured associate professor of Spanish at San Diego State University who was accused of sexually harassing four female students, allegedly asking one of them to dress as a French maid, no longer works for the university, NBC 7 first reported. According to documents obtained by the news station, which has been following Vincent Martin’s case for some time, he was either fired or resigned this month.

In 2011, shortly after starting at San Diego State, Martin allegedly asked a student he’d accused of plagiarism and offered an assistantship to make up the class to meet him at a hotel in Seattle wearing a maid’s costume. The university has since determined that Martin harassed three other students, including one who offered to babysit his young child, according to NBC. Martin received a 30-day suspension in two of those cases, and last week a university spokesperson confirmed that Martin is no longer employed there.

The university said in a statement that it "is limited, legally, with the disciplinary actions we can take until the faculty exhausts his or her due process." A decision letter from a previous arbitration hearing revealed Martin resigned from a job at the University of Delaware after he was accused of harassing a female student there, according to NBC. The San Diego Union Tribune reported that the ongoing allegations against Martin, and the university’s response -- which some said wasn’t serious enough -- prompted student protests on campus earlier this year.

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