Indefensible

‘Tis the season for dissertation defenses.  Zuska shares the awful tale of hers, and ponders the bad behavior of some science professors:

Your advisor or PI, the person who should be your mentor, have your back, sing your praises, and be bursting with pride as they launch you into the larger world of Science, is sniggering in the back row like a frat boy in charge of Pledge Week. Yes, your PI has prepared a clever “roast” of you, the grad student, the person who has just spent the last many years working your ass off in PI’s lab to bring PI glory and honor and data and publications and grant renewals.

The PI will be sure that the roast is hilarious. It may mock your work ethic, your relationship with your significant other, the amount of time it took you to finish (hmm, and who does that reflect poorly on, PI?), your lab skills, your possession and/or use of a female reproductive system. Whatever, we can be sure it will be in poor taste, not terribly funny, and borderline in violation of several university rules about discrimination and harassment.

Why, you might wonder, if such goings-on are indeed in violation of university harassment/discrimination laws, don’t university lawyers say something to PIs about this behavior? Well, first, the university lawyers would need to know that such behavior was taking place. And who’s going to tell them?

Who, indeed?  Aren’t the grownups supposed to be in charge?  Continue reading

Saturday Round-up: smoke & fire edition

Well, it’s been a busy exam week.  And I’m still not done with my grading!  While I’m firing up the grill here at the Hell’s Half-Acre Ranch this afternoon, here are a few links and treats to keep you busy while you’re avoiding your grading, or writing, or reading, or whatever work it is you’re trying desperately to avoid:

  • Tenured Radical has some interesting thoughts on the politics (and rampant paternalism) of egg donation in the high-tech fertility industry, and the deep, deep concern that some bioethicists have for the medical procedures involved in egg harvests and, of course, for women being paid to hand over their ova.  She notes how funny it is that no one expresses the same deep, deep concerns when women are injected, poked and prodded for their own eggs, which will be then used in fertility treatments in their own bodies:  “When was the last time you saw a front page article about the long-term risks associated with thirty-something and forty-something women juicing up their ovaries with dangerous chemicals over a period of anywhere from one to five years?  But that’s cool because they become mothers, as opposed to becoming unnatural, selfish women whose only goal is to pay for college and graduate school.”
  • Roxie at Roxie’s World has been on fire about Elena Kagan and the question, is she or isn’t she?  (A natural brunette, that is–what did you think I meant?)  Tenured Radical addressed this last weekend, in case you missed it.
  • Historiann wonders:  Continue reading

Letter from St. Paul to the Colleagues

And now, as so many of us are about to say good-bye to our colleagues for the summer, I would like to draw your attention to these bon mots from Bridget Crawford at Feminist Law Professors:

1 If a faculty member is a great teacher, but is not collegial, then the faculty member is not contributing positively to the educational institution.

2 And if a faculty member has the gift of communication, and understanding of a subject matter, and scholarship in a particular area; and if a faculty member has intellectual interests, but does not engage constructively with others, then the faculty member is not contributing to the academy.

3 And though a faculty member may be generous with one’s time in meeting with students, and though the faculty member may proclaim himself or herself a good teacher, if the faculty member is not collegial, then an adjunct position may be more appropriate.

4 Collegiality suffers long meetings, and is civil when others are not; collegiality focuses not on the faults of others; collegiality does not promote oneself at the expense of others.

5 Collegiality does not behave unprofessionally, seek personal power, provoke easily, speak ill of others. Continue reading

Leave? Damn straight! We hear again from Anonymous about her maternity leave plans

Last week, Anonymous posted an update about her attempts to secure a paid maternity leave from her university.  (If you recall, I posted her story a few weeks ago detailing her efforts to get a leave for the fall term.)  Guess what?  After nearly six months of wrangling as her belly grows, she’s down to this:  she’ll get paid, but she’s not going to be on leave!  Take it away, Anonymous:

I agree that perhaps it was unbelievably naive of me to imagine that the chair and the dean could clearly and legally and fully explain to me the policies relating to leave (which as other posters have explained are NOT clearly laid out either in the faculty handbook or on the HR sight, which is actually incomprehensible). Since the chair frequently handles requests for leave, it seemed sensible to imagine this was part of his job description, rather than an imposition I was making on him. Had I known what a fierce and complex struggle this would be, I would certainly have approached it differently. But considering my previous experience at a different university, at which my request for leave was handled by the chair and treated as utterly pro forma, perhaps I had *some reasonable expectation* of a similar outcome. Continue reading

Wes walks it back from the wired classroom

“Wes from Wolf Lake” offers some interesting observations about classrooms and technology:

When I started teaching full time (I spent many years in industry after grad school) I was enamored with using technology in the classroom. Countless hours were spent working on PowerPoint presentations, uploading podcasts and even designing my own animations for a web site I built (our faculty resources were limited at the beginning). My admins lauded me for using technology in the classroom and they encouraged me as a I moved into social media and my students subscribed to the RSS and Twitter feeds for the class. The college pushed forward with me and talked about how we could move more and more courses online and how the democratic world of social media liberated the students to discover their own learning path.

My classroom Luddite transition was insidious and gradual but I can definitely see how it began. For any of you old enough to remember the movie Real Genius you know the montage I am thinking of, where the young student comes to a classroom that becomes filled with fewer and fewer students and more tape recorders as the semester progresses, to the point that the last shot has a room filled with tape recorders and a tape recorder playing at the front of the room. Over the years, this is how I had begun to feel in the classroom. The modern equivalent has been the students frantic to know when class podcasts would be posted and demands for the course PowerPoint presentations. Couple this with the incessant texting and web surfing in the guise of “course work” and I realized that this addiction wasn’t doing the students any good.

I have never used technology this way precisely because of my suspicion that it would end up making class attendance irrelevant in the minds of the students.  Why should they show up, if we go to all of this trouble to imply that they can “do” class anywhere and everywhere but inside a room with us, two or three days a week?  Is there really no value in gathering together and communicating with them in a classroom?  (Not to mention the fact that canning our classes with technology this way just makes it easier for us to be nudged out of our jobs.  Why pay us for every class we teach, when the uni can just post our lectures on YouTube, our notes and handouts on BlackBoard or WebCT, and use a T.A. or hire a grader in Bangalore?  Do we really want to make this argument for administrators?)  It’s just interesting to hear this from a proffie who has stepped back from the brink.  Wes continues:

As the students became more and more dependent on the concrete information that I provided and less and less capable of the abstraction I required I started to reevaluate the role of technology in the classroom. This time I looked at the use of technology in the light of my time in industry rather than through the lens of the newest “student-centered” fads. In industry we definitely used technology, but it was to accent or facilitate not to replace the essential functions of the job. Continue reading

And the Whig of Illusory Progress goes to. . .

The Whig of Illusory Progress

The Whig of Illusory Progress

UPDATED BELOW

Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post for her silly and mutually contradictory comments on the nomination of Elena Kagan for the United States Supreme Court yesterday.  It’s been quite a while since I’ve awarded a Whig of Illusory Progress–for an explanation and the Whiggy archive, just click here.

Today’s Whiggy goes to another “We’re Never Going Back Now!” story.  That’s right, girls:  did you know that having four U.S. Supreme Court justices in all of U.S. History means that the world has now changed, like, forever, and we’re in a new era of social progress?  Let me hand it over to Marcus to explain:  

The first woman to be dean of Harvard Law School. The first woman to be solicitor general.  

But: the fourth woman, if she is confirmed, on the Supreme Court. The third woman among the current justices.  

The arc of women’s progress is measured by Elena Kagan’s transition from anomaly to norm, from trailblazer to just another. Well, more than just another — a Supreme Court nominee never is — but less of a big deal.  

And no big deal is what makes Kagan’s nomination such a welcome moment. There is certainly no going back to a court with a lone female justice, probably no going back to a court with only two women.  

Wowee!  Hey–isn’t that pretty much what Ruth Bader Ginsburg said when she was nominated 16 years ago?  And then she became the lone woman on the court for three years after Sandra Day O’Connor retired in 2006, right?   Continue reading

Betty Draper is a bad mommy

She's no Donna Reed

In Clio Bluestocking’s “Not a Post about Mother’s Day,” she offers some interesting observations on the oddly vehement feelings about the Betty Draper character in Mad Men:

I’m not sure what to think of Mother’s Day, probably because I am not one nor care to be one. Mostly, I’m not sure what to think of Mother’s Day because the concept seems so divorced from reality. I know that it started as a day to protest war by politicizing motherhood, but the commodification and sentimentalization of Mother’s Day since World War I seems to have done more harm than good to everyone — mothers, perhaps, the most of all. Who wants to live in the shadow of that monster of an angel, the Perfect Mother?

I think, oddly, of Betty Draper on Mad Men. Not so much her as the reactions to her that I read on such blogs as What Alan’s Watching and Tom and Lorenzo. I don’t personally like the character; yet, at the same time, I also find her and the reactions to her fascinating. While the writers have her make decisions that fit her character — she, for instance, did not leave Don in the first season after she found out that he was spying on her psychotherapy, instead using that knowledge to manipulate him — most people who comment on the show project their own experiences as a mother or as a child onto her. People who respond to her with sympathy identify with her as a trapped woman who hasn’t bought into the romanticism of motherhood. People who loathe her respond to her as children who were raised by an unhappy mother.

I don’t think the connection Clio B. makes is so odd.  I’ve noticed the same bi-polar reactions to her character.  I also find that Betty gets judged by viewers according to the range of possible choices available to women in 2010 rather than 1963.  Continue reading