The jaw-dropping stupidity of opinion journalism today

You know nothing of my work.

Because it’s so fashionable to decry the state of higher education on the pages of American dailies, I think it’s high time for humanities scholars to decry the sorry state of opinion journalism in the U.S. today.  Take this op-ed by Arthur C. Brooks from the pages of the Washington Post todayplease–about America’s “new culture war:”

America will continue to be an exceptional nation organized around the principles of free enterprise — limited government, a reliance on entrepreneurship and rewards determined by market forces. [Or] . . . America will move toward European-style statism grounded in expanding bureaucracies, a managed economy and large-scale income redistribution. These visions are not reconcilable. We must choose.

I swear–I had to double-check the date on this, because it could have been written in 1980, 1958, or 1934, or perhaps with somewhat different language and emphases, in 1856 or 1802 or 1789.  Let’s just set aside the fundamental dishonesty of supposing that our choices really are either “free enterprise” and “market forces” versus “European-style statism.”  (I guess he assembled his column from a Reason Foundation-provided copy of Mad Libs.)  In what sense is this in fact “a new culture war?” 

Anyone?  Anyone?  Bueller?   Continue reading

Book readings, your audience, and successful self-promotion

Reader John S. has a reading of his just-published book at his campus bookstore next week.  I gave a few lectures when Abraham in Arms first came out on the subject of my book–they weren’t book readings, but one was for a more general audience, in which I bombed, and two to university audiences, which were more successful. 

My lecture to the more general audience was for wealthy donors to my college, so the audience was middle-aged or older, and very unafraid to share their opinions with me.  I made a strategic mistake in my efforts to connect my ideas about warfare and gender in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century North America to today, and cited some of the gendered and sexualized language deployed by Americans with respect to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  They treated me like I was just another jerk with an opinion, rather than someone who had spent a decade researching and thinking about these issues across time.   Continue reading

We haz mad skillz

What was your major, Dave?

In a column full of conventional “wisdom” in which David Brooks outlines a hypothetical angry voter, he writes this in filling in “Ben’s” biography:

Ben would like to have majored in history, but he needed a skill so he studied hotel management. Others spent their college years partying, but Ben worked hard. After graduation, he got a job with a hotel chain. A few years later, he got a different job and then a different one.

It’s not the central point of Brooks’s column, but I can’t let this dig at history majors slide by.  Continue reading

Buh-bye, Snarlin' Arlen

I spent nearly seven years as a constituent of Arlen Specter, and for me, this was the defining moment in his seemingly endless tenure in the U.S. Senate:

Does anyone else remember that awesome year of 1991, when we were schooled by the Senate Judiciary Committee that an obscure Oklahoma law professor was Public Enemy Number One, and surely a great danger to the republic?  I sure do.  I was in a graduate seminar in which the professor asked at the end of the semester if the Clarence Thomas nomination hearings would be something we’d be lecturing about in our American history courses 20 years hence.  Continue reading

Patriarchal equilibrium: UR doin' in rite!

I'll get you my pretties. . . at mid-career, too!

Ever wonder why there remains a significant and persistent pay gap between men and women in academia?  Female Science Professor provides a case study from a recent discussion about her salary compression with an administrator:

For some reason a certain administrator recently told me that, although I had had (in his opinion) “a spectacular year” in terms of publications, grants, students graduated, teaching, service, honors etc., he was going to allocate what few extra resources he had at his discretion to some of the assistant professors. He said his decision is not based on “merit” but on what he thinks is fair.

OK, that’s fine.. sort of. I am not going to argue that I deserve more of these scarce resources than my hard-working junior colleagues, and my morale is not crushed by this turn of events. My so-called “spectacular” year was made possible in part by the fact that I am a mid-career professor with an established research group that is functioning well. My younger colleagues are still building their research programs, and the contents of their annual reports should therefore by viewed in this context, rather than by a strict comparison of numbers of publications or grants etc.

And yet, there is still a very large difference between my salary and that of a peer (male) colleague whose higher salary is not based on the fact that he is more productive than I am (because he is not). He was hired as a full professor and negotiated a higher salary than what his nearest peer colleague (that’s me) was making. My initially low salary has of course increased over the years, but not at a rate that would put me at the same level as this colleague anytime soon, if ever.

I told the aforementioned administrator that I understood and even supported his plan to help some of the assistant professors, but I also said that I didn’t want my situation to fall entirely off the radar screen in future years, as I saw it as an equity issue. One could argue that my colleague is paid “too much” and that my salary is more appropriate for my position and job, but that still leaves me as a good example of a woman paid ~85% of what a man makes for the same job.

The aforementioned administrator replied that I should have done a better job negotiating my salary when I was first hired.  Continue reading