faculty

Essay on academics who face guilt whenever they aren't working

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Kerry Ann Rockquemore has advice for a young academic who feels bad about every minute spent in anything but work.

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Veto for Hawaii Bill Permitting Grad Student Unions

Hawaii Governor David Ige, a Democrat, on Monday announced that he would veto legislation that would permit graduate students in the University of Hawaii System to unionize. In a statement, he said: “Our administration appreciates the contributions graduate students make throughout the university system. Their valid concerns can and should be addressed internally through Board of Regents policy followed by a commitment from the university administration to implement such policy. We strongly encourage this option rather than amending state collective bargaining laws that govern management and employee relations.”

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Essay on how much a professor learned about teaching from his mentor

In the summer of 1996, I spent two weeks driving around Greece with my girlfriend and my undergraduate adviser. We argued all the time: me and my girlfriend; me and my adviser; my girlfriend and my adviser. One stop was particularly memorable for its unenjoyableness. We spent a day and a night at Monemvasia, a fortified Crusader town on a massive rock off the coast. The whole time, my adviser berated me to learn more about the extensive history of the place and turned his nose up at my girlfriend, who wanted to find a nightclub on the island.

To be fair, my adviser was not actually on the trip. He was in my head, or rather, I had internalized him. I couldn’t have a conversation without hearing him remark on the substance (or lack thereof) of my comments. He haunted my relationships and my thoughts. I carried him everywhere, like Anchises on my shoulders.

As my adviser would have pointed out, that was Sartre's metaphor for the superego, which he (Sartre, not my adviser) claimed not to have, his father having died when he was two. And perhaps that’s all my adviser was, a pumped-up academic superego, driving me to know more, to be less dumb, to write better.

He -- and he had a name, Antoine Raybaud, and a face: sea-blue eyes that burned when he stared, a beaked nose, broad smile and churlish gray curly hair -- would have given growth hormones to anyone's superego. His lectures were like Stéphane Mallarmé's salons, two hours of noteless improvisations on poetry and artistic creation. His seminars were fearsome: like a cat toying with its prey, he would hide the answers to his questions in ambiguous phrases, leaving us dangling in confusion. When the inevitable wrong answer was proffered, he would bat us away with a “Non, non, c’est pas ça du tout.” And then a long, oppressive silence would ensue, until another foolhardy student would offer up a sacrificial comment.

He taught in French, because this took place at the University of Geneva, where I was a student. Raybaud himself was French, a graduate of Normale Sup’, the elite French university for future academics. He had come to Geneva to replace the legendary Jean Starobinski, one of the greatest literary critics of the twentieth century. I had known none of this when choosing French as my main subject at the university. But Raybaud was well aware of his place in institutional history: perhaps he could hear Staro’s voice in his own head, belittling his lectures.

The atmosphere in Raybaud’s seminars was so tense that every detail of that room is seared into my memory. The tables, arranged in a long rectangle, with a no man’s land in the middle; the door to the hallway, at the center of the room, always slightly ajar; a mobile whiteboard in front of one window; and then, beyond, the tantalizing views of the Salève mountain and the chestnut trees in the Parc des Bastions -- their beauty all the more wrenching when students were driven to tears by Raybaud’s caustic remarks on their presentations.

I didn’t have to take his classes. Still, a tiny group of us kept on coming back. Despite the hardships, Raybaud’s classes were mesmerizing. He interpreted texts like a magician, making meaning appear where we could only see words. The seminars became less painful, as Raybaud slowly warmed to us. But he never relented in his expectations. Every single paper I submitted to him, from my first essay to my final thesis, he made me rewrite. Once, on my way to his office, I bumped into him in the hallway; he glanced at the first few paragraphs of my assignment, then handed it back, saying, “Allez, refaites-moi ça.” (“Do it over.”) I went home and spent hours trying to figure out what I had done wrong. Eventually I rewrote the entire paper; even I could tell that it turned out much better.

Natacha, Bernard and I were his last students; he retired the year we graduated. His last seminars were luxurious: we spent six months, just the four of us, reading “Un Coup de Dés.” During that last seminar, it became clear we were initiates. We had come close to being broken, but had broken through.

I often wonder whether Raybaud’s tough love wasn’t the best pedagogy I could have received. I don’t dare repeat his method on my own students. But I fear I may be failing them by being too friendly, by not pushing them to their limits, not giving them a chance to surpass themselves. This is not a teaching style for all students, to be sure. But I know that without his punishing comments, I would be a lesser scholar today.

While Raybaud did not do much to enhance my vacations or relationships, having that voice in my head, for so many years, was not always a bad thing. By forcing me to rewrite every paper I handed in, he turned me into my toughest critic. I needed to internalize him, if I wanted to make any progress. Had Raybaud merely told me what was wrong with my arguments, I would never have learned the most important lesson of all: how to spot my own weaknesses.

After six years -- which was how long most of us spent in our studies, since we paid next to nothing -- the demon who had hounded me across Greece had become a friend. We were close, if not intimate: I could never bring myself to call him “tu,” even though he encouraged me to call him Antoine. He shared his own disappointments, or what he called his “insuccès”: not failure, but something almost worse, a lack of recognition.

But his vulnerability taught me a final lesson. Anchises is not really someone else, only your own voice in disguise. Raybaud was the name I gave to a part of my mind I’ve since recognized as my own. He no longer disrupts my vacations or family life, but without his rigor, there is a side of myself I may never have discovered. Antoine died in 2012, and I never had the chance to reveal just how much I owed him. But a part of him will always be a part of me, reminding me that, no matter how painful or tiring, I should really rewrite that paper one more time.

Dan Edelstein is professor of French and, by courtesy, history, and the W. Warren Shelden University Fellow in Undergraduate Education at Stanford University.

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Antoine Raybaud

Essay on the need for new Ph.D.s to do job searches for more than dream jobs

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Every new Ph.D. needs a plan B, writes Thomas Magaldi.

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Major Effort Unveiled to Translate Russian Literature

Academic publishers and a team of Russian and American academics announced Saturday a major effort to translate up to 100 books of literature from Russian into English, The New York Times reported. Some works may be classics in need of new translations, but many will be modern literature that has yet to be translated. The books will be published by Columbia University Press.

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Guidelines Promote Transparency, Honesty in Science

Scholars affiliated with the Center for Open Science, a nonprofit, have published in Science a set of guidelines designed to encourage transparency, accuracy and honesty in journal publications. The guidelines, already attracting support from many journals, feature eight standards and then three levels of commitment for each one, with the goal being that journals that may not be able to adopt all standards at the top level can still do more to promote transparency, which in turn encourages further studies that either reproduce or challenge findings.

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Essay on diversity issues and midcareer faculty members

Midcareer minority faculty members face particular challenges, write Joya Misra and Jennifer Lundquist.

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A Toni Morrison novel makes it into a curriculum known for its classical roots

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Columbia's core literature course, long criticized for its lack of diversity, adds to the list a novel by Toni Morrison -- the first living author and the first nonwhite author.

No-Confidence Vote at Pitzer

Pitzer College's president, Laura Skandera Trombley, announced in December that she would leave office at the end of this month to become president of the Huntington Library. She has won praise from her board and others for setting college records in fund-raising, bolstering environmental programs and attracting more students over a 13-year tenure. But even though she is in her final days in office, the faculty voted no confidence in her this week, after a meeting in which professors away for the summer participated digitally.

Faculty members say that Trombley has disregarded the tradition of shared governance at the college. Specifically, many are upset that she did not reappoint Muriel Poston as dean of the faculty, and that this decision was, they say, made without faculty consultation. Pitzer faculty leaders say that this is a position that college guidelines specifically state shall be evaluated by faculty members and administrators. Faculty also this week passed a resolution calling for a reinstatement of Poston, who did not respond to an email request for comment.

Via email, Trombley said, "I am very happily moving to more scholarly pastures, and the college is steeling itself for what could be an acrimonious search process. While I have stayed far, far away from the search, what I see surfacing is a struggle between who will lead the search and, by implication, the college."

She added: "Due to my outgoing status, the board felt it prudent and responsible in its legal and governing role to determine whether or not the dean of the faculty's contract should be renewed. Based upon the board’s careful review, as well as their deep belief in shared governance and careful adherence to the faculty and board bylaws, the board passed a motion that the dean of the faculty's contract should not be renewed. The dean was informed of the board’s decision by the board chair. The dean has tenure, and the board offered her a year's paid sabbatical. She was not fired. The board chair sent a written message to the faculty, and some faculty were upset about the board's action. The faculty met, voted no confidence in me on the basis of inadequate 'shared governance' (and let's face it, an easy vote with my immediate departure) and demanded that the dean be reinstated."

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Essay on how the LaCour scandal exposes weaknesses in research training and peer review

Five years ago, I took a long walk in Ireland with my husband, and when we got back, there were reports of several research scandals in which academic reputations were ruined by what appeared to be data falsification or at least substantial sloppiness. I wrote about it -- claiming, as I often do, that enforced data sharing would at least ensure that researchers tidied up their documentation.

A few weeks ago, I took another long walk in Ireland with my husband, and this time the news was filled with Ireland’s public referendum legalizing same-sex marriage and another research scandal, this one involving research about the possibility that face-to-face voter canvassing by persons identified as gay can change opinions about the rights of the LGBT community. I guess I need to be more careful about my travel plans, at least when they involve Ireland.

This time I am less sanguine about the idea that simply enforcing data sharing can improve the research process enough that sloppiness and outright fraud will be well policed. The most recent story involves a young Ph.D. student, Michael J. LaCour, who made up facts about the research process -- such as who funded it, how incentives were paid out, whether the embedded experiments were registered with a centralized registry and perhaps even which survey firm conducted the study.

The scandal began, as they often do, when someone wanted to replicate the research, and the researcher did not share all of the data. The student, in fact, despite the very sound advice of his senior co-author, had not deposited all the data with my former employer the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) so that the full data file could both be found and shared. Once thwarted and confused, of course, the research team that wanted to replicate his research started pulling at the loose thread and unraveled a whole skein of lies and exaggerations. I bet Michael LaCour now profoundly wishes he had paid closer and more careful heed to the advice of his mentor -- because ICPSR, in fact, could have coaxed him into the truth simply by the act of scrutiny and documentation; instead he chose a self-archiving method that allowed him to upload what he wished.

The story of LaCour should bolster my cherished premise that full data sharing will reduce the amount of malfeasance, right? Is it possible to still be naïve in your early 50s? I am afraid so. After another five years of being head down and hip deep in data collection and file preparation, I am willing to admit that either encouraging or forcing data sharing among researchers just is not enough. These scandals result from deeper problems with our training and review of the research process. The scandals almost always erupt when someone starts to question the data used to answer a substantive question -- and then the answer to the substantive question is viewed with suspicion. The inability to replicate, or even get close, opens the door to all types of scrutiny. Mishandling data or data collection is like Al Capone not paying his taxes -- it provides an entrée for our academic Eliot Ness to bring home the investigation.

My claims about the inadequacy of research training and the peer-review process will likely raise howls of protest -- what about all of the graduate-level methods courses, the Institutional Review Board (IRB) and the peer-review process required for grants and publications? Yes, all of these checks and balances, in principle, ensure ethical, high-quality research. But they do not, in fact, in any of the disciplines I am familiar with. Graduate-level methods classes in the social sciences -- and I have taught more than a few -- carry a heavy burden requiring both an omnibus survey of data collection methods, research ethics and often a smattering of statistical methods. The section on research ethics usually only focuses on how to deal with human subjects, not on how to handle the data we collect from them. Even a two-course sequence will never get you much beyond what I always think of as the research equivalent of “happily ever after” data collection. No one tells you how to stay married to your Prince Charming nor how to adequately and ethically prepare data files for sharing.

What of the IRB and peer review -- don’t they represent the bulwark against sloppiness and malfeasance? Not really -- as both do not have the explicit purpose of policing the research process generally. The purpose of the IRB is, in fact, the protection of human subjects -- that is, ensuring that all data collection is ethical. This may or may not ensure that the data collection is well documented, accurate and scrupulously transparent, as the protection of human subjects requires looking carefully at informed consent, for instance, but not necessarily data documentation.

Unfortunately, peer review is even more narrowly focused, except when a reviewer pulls hard at a methodological thread. Journal articles and grant applications never allow for the careful description of the methods and procedures because of substantial space constraints. In the past, co-authors and fellow review panel members have rightly scolded me for my overweening and tedious attention to the details of the research process. Peer review focuses primarily on substance and research quality because it must -- we are meant to trust that our colleagues are well trained, careful, transparent and accurate, without a lot of detail about how they execute these traits. I am not entirely sure that trust is warranted -- thus, peer review also fails to ensure that the research process is as it should be.

On our walk in Ireland, my husband and I climbed Croagh Patrick, the mountain on top of which St. Patrick spent 40 days fasting in 441 AD. It is a religious pilgrimage for many Irish Catholics -- for us, it was the challenge of going straight uphill on loose slate for two hours. Croagh Patrick is famous for its miserable weather, and our walk was no exception -- 50-mile-an-hour winds, driving rain and dense fog. As my husband is fond of saying, St. Patrick’s religious visions on the top of the mountain can likely be attributed to hypothermia and the fact that he could not find his way down.

As I crawled my way up the mountain of loose, wet stone, in addition to cursing my husband, who is descended from a long line of spirited Irish men and women, I thought about the value of careful and thorough preparation. My husband, ever the Eagle Scout, always ensures that we are thoroughly prepared and carefully equipped for every eventuality -- thus, I only got soaked to the skin in the last 20 minutes instead of the first two hours, and we made it both up and down the mountain despite being the far side of 50 years old. It strikes me that the research process is indeed like climbing Croagh Patrick -- preparation and careful attention to detail are an absolute must. The research community must find better ways to nurture and encourage these skills rather than spend time picking over the bones of those who have fallen off the trail.

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Felicia B. LeClere is a senior fellow with NORC at the University of Chicago, where she works as research coordinator on multiple projects. She has 20 years of experience in survey design and practice, with particular interest in data dissemination and the support of scientific research through the development of scientific infrastructure.

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