It's your misfortune, and none of my own

cowboy-heart.jpgIn a sad and thought-provoking article in High Country News called My Crazy Brother, Ray Ring writes about the fact that the West has the highest suicide rates in the U.S.  He writes, “for suicide, nine of the top 11 states are in the West, a trend that holds year after year, decade after decade.  And the degree of the lethal regional difference is stunning:  Nevada, Montana, New Mexico, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and Oregon range from 19 to 15 suicides per 100,000 people–more than twice as high as New York and Washington, D.C. . . . . Some 8,000 Westerners will kill themselves this year, a hefty portion of the national total of more than 30,000 suicides.”  His brother John killed himself in 1993 at age 46, after nearly a lifetime of struggling with mental illness.

The worthy purpose of the article is to urge us to make mental health treatment as much of a priority as other health care needs, and it features photographs from an interesting traveling exhibition called “Nothing to Hide:  Mental Illness in the Family,” sponsored by Family Diversity Projects.)  But, since the article appears in High Country News, a magazine dedicated to environmental issues in the West, I wish Ring had offered more analysis for why Westerners have such high suicide rates.  (Historiann’s first guess is that it must be the high rates of gun ownership out here–but, while household firearm ownership is strongly associated with higher suicide rates, the South is the region with the most heavily armed householders, followed by the Midwest, according to this 2005 Gallup Poll.)  The vast majority of Westerners are now urban dwellers, so it’s not the stark isolation of ranch life or mining camps that does it.  Ring offers only the High Plains Gothic musings of historian Patricia Limerick, who says that Westerners “won’t admit our sorrows until they become cataclysmic,” but he doesn’t follow up on those comments, or explore their meaning further.  (H/t to historian Richard White, whose 1993 book title It’s Your Misfortune and None of My Own:  A New History of the American West I cribbed for this post.  Said title was itself cribbed of course from the song, “Git Along Little Dogies,” and for all of you living at 4,000-foot elevation or below, it’s “dogies,” not “doggies.”)

Ring also briefly discusses the Wallace Stegner’s 1943 novel, Big Rock Candy Mountain, which hints at an interesting analysis.  Stegner’s father was an erswhile farmer and bootlegger who moved his family 20 times in 10 years, and ultimately killed a mistress and then himself in a Salt Lake City hotel in 1939.  A character in the novel, supposedly based on Stegner’s father, is described as someone who was perpetually disappointed by his failures in life because “people had been before him.  The cream, he said, was gone.  He should have lived a hundred years earlier.  Yet he would never quite grant that all the good places were filled up.  There was somewhere, if you knew where to find it, some place where money could be made like drawing water from a well, some Big Rock Candy Mountain where life was effortless and rich and unrestrained and full of adventure and action, where something could be had for nothing.”  To me, Stegner’s description of the Westerner’s attitude really rings true, although I don’t know if it’s necessarily connected with mental illness. 

Stegner’s description of a man who expected a life that was “effortless and rich and unrestrained and full of adventure and action” seems to suggest something about Western culture that endures.  This is the region of the country that was only opened for intensive development by Anglo-American migrants with massive infusions of federal dollars:  the Frontier Army, irrigation, railroads, and federal grants of land, grazing, and mineral rights.  Those infusions of cash, water, and infrastructure worked–in fact, the West remains the fastest growing region of the U.S.  While Westerners are happy beneficiaries of national tax dollars, they are allergic to payting taxes and claim to be suspicious of the “big government” that won the West for them.  All of the Western states (except California, Washington, and Utah) are in the top twenty states with the lowest state and local tax burdens:  Colorado (#30), Arizona (#31), Idaho (#35), Nevada (#36), Oregon (#37), New Mexico (#40), Montana (#41), and Wyoming (#42).  This suggests that Westerners think that they’re entitled to something, if not for nothing, then at least for less than the average going rate.  Perhaps this is because so many people are recent arrivals and they don’t feel rooted in the West (if they ever will), and so many “native” Westerners are resentful of the immigrants, whether they’re from Texas, California, New Jersey, or Mexico, that they don’t feel the need to pay taxes to educate or vaccinate the newcomers’ children.  (A popular bumper sticker in Colorado sports the white-outlined green mountains of the old Colorado license plates, with the word “NATIVE” spelled out as an aggressive boast.)

Perhaps the most fragile and despondent among us are caught up in the crush of new migrants, old hopes, and fresh disappointments and can’t see any way out.  Communities of new migrants aren’t necessarily stable or supportive, and people cut off from their families and native communities may be prone to despair if their big dreams don’t work out.  Then again, they may live for a while on the hope that their luck will change with the next move, and that the next Big Thing will lead them to their Big Rock Candy Mountain.  (If you’re interested in contemporary Western issues, especially having to do with the environment, land use, development, and industry, then consider a subscription to High Country Newsit’s an excellent publication that reports stories you’ll see nowhere else in either the local or the national media.)

And, sorry about all of the buzzkills at Historiann.com lately–suicide, bullies, the gendered wage gap, and the mendacity of tenure review–you’d think it was still midwinter, instead of a lovely early spring.  I promise to lighten things up around here with a little Barbie blogging this week. 

Workplace bullies and the academy

potter.jpgCheck out this brief article in the New York Times about bullies in the workplace, their strategies and the toll they take on individuals and the productivity of the organizations they work for.  In response to this article’s request to hear stories of workplace bullying, there are 466 comments, and they’re still being posted this morning as I write.  (Don’t miss comment #53 from Liz, an attorney and Army Reservist who said she has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder not from her tour of duty in Iraq, but rather from her civililan job!)  I read the first one hundred comments, and have noticed some interesting themes:

  1. While careers in medicine and the law are heavily represented in the incidents reported here, the academic workplace is specifically mentioned in ten out of the first 100 complaints:  see comments 2, 17, 25, 30, 44, 55, 64, 70, 86, and 96.  Yep, folks, read ’em and weep:  Chairs bullying junior faculty, Deans bullying tenured faculty, professors bullying students, and in one case, students bullying a professor, so there’s something for everyone.
  2. The article notes that “a large share of the problem involves women victimizing women. The Zogby survey showed that 40 percent of workplace bullies are women,” and the comments bear this out.  Comment 55 from Dana, a graduate student, writes that the faculty member making her life miserable “was awarded her doctorate in the late 1960s, when women had a tougher go of it in higher education. I’m convinced through my experience with her and others that that generation of feminists approach their careers with a grand chip on their shoulders – and take it out on those of us who came in through the next feminist wave of a decade later.”
  3. Just looking at the syntax and writing style of the comments, you can see the toll that workplace bullying takes on people.  So many of the comments are in all lower-case letters (people reporting bullying seem to refer to themselves as “i” instead of “I”), and they are full of run-on sentences.  I couldn’t read more than 100–my guts were churning and bile was rising in my throat, and there’s only so much rank injustice that a girl can take on a sunny, spring morning!
  4. There are a few commenters who try to jolly the others out of their misery (“try making friends!”), and others who claim that bullying victims are just whiners who can’t take criticism.  But, those reactions seem naive on the one hand, and cruel on the other.  The clear lesson is that people who are being bullied need to leave those jobs in order to preserve whatever’s left of their health and sanity.

On the question of women bullying other women:  I don’t think it’s fair at all to tar a whole generation with that brush–after all, some of the most supportive, nurturing people who have mentored me and many other junior women are from that generation.  Until fairly recently, it was only that generation of women faculty who were senior enough to engage in bullying.  Sadly, Historiann is familiar with women bullying women–it was considered not a bug, but rather a feature of her former department.  The bullying women were “useful idiots” who could be relied on to police junior women; the senior men could then hide behind their skirts and deny that gender bias was an issue.  I don’t think this kind of behavior can be pinned on the generation of women who earned their degrees in the 60s and 70s–I’ve seen it in people whose degrees are from the 1980s and 1990s, too.  The critical issue is power, not generation, and most regular faculty with 1990s Ph.D.’s are tenured now and therefore have at least a small purchase on power and influence in their departments.

The one advantage that academics have over people in other lines of work is that bullies aren’t as able to affect our prospects for other employment the way that bullying bosses in private industry can.  If we keep publishing and maintain connections with supportive scholars outside of our institutions, we can get out of a bad job.  We don’t need letters of recommendation from our department chairs–if you’re an Assistant Professor, a letter from a supportive Associate Professor will do nicely to testify implicitly, if not explicitly, that you’re not a troublemaking malcontent but rather an excellent colleage with limitless potential.  The only exception to this is if your bully happens to be someone of importance in your field–but this is probably unusual:  by definition, people who are important in their field spend their time writing books, working with students, and hobnobbing at conferences with other people important in their field.  In general, they don’t have the time, let alone the inclination, to try to mess with someone else’s career.  In my experience, the bullies weren’t exactly the brightest bulbs in the chandelier, to put it charitably.  They weren’t terribly productive scholars or successful teachers, which is probably why they felt so intimidated by smart young things who were clearly going places.  So, they chose to make their post-tenure careers as hall monitors rather than as scholars.

Et vous, mes amis?  Any thoughts as to why the groves of academe are such fertile fields for bullies?  (Or, conversely, why academics are such thin-skinned, overly sensistive complainers?)  Do you have your own stories to share?  Discuss.

Brother, can you spare $100K? (Oops–$220K?)

Inside Higher Ed reports today on a major study on gender and the pay gap between faculty women and men by Paul D. Umbach, an Assistant Professor of Education at the University of Iowa.  It concludes that “even using the most sophisticated possible approach to take into consideration non-sexist reasons for pay differentials–a pay gap remains, based on gender. And while this can’t be definitively tied to sexism, there aren’t a lot of likely alternative explanations.”  That’s an average gap of $3,200 per year, every year–or (Historiann’s arithmetic here, multiplying $3,200 by 30 years, which is dodgy because the gap would almost certainly increase over time) at least a $96,000 career deficit for women compared to their male colleagues.  (UPDATE:  See Susan’s and Nathan’s corrections in the comments below.  The news is even worse than I had been able to comprehend with my tiny deficient non-economist brain!  It looks like at least one man–if Nathan is in fact a man–is earning his unjustly inflated salary!) 

litebrite-tits.jpgPull up a chair and a box of Kleenex, girls and boys, because there’s something for everyone here (but as usual, the bad news is mostly for us girls!)

  1. Controlling for all factors, there is a 4% gap between the salaries of female and male faculty.  (The pay gap goes up to 14% when controlling only discipline and institution type.)
  2. Men as well as women working in the fields that feature more women faculty have lower salaries than those working in male-dominated fields, but even in those fields men are earning 4% more than their female colleagues.
  3. Quoting from the story directly, “Those disciplines [mentioned in #2 above] also tend to be teaching-oriented disciplines. Similarly women were disproportionately employed at teaching-oriented institutions, which also pay less. So professors who are women, teach in a field that cares about teaching and work at a college that really cares about teaching face a ‘triple hit’ on salary, [Umbach] said, ‘and it adds up to real money.'”

Read the whole thing–it’s brief, and the author, Scott Jaschik, has done a remarkably good job analyzing a lot of complex information and squeezing it into a readable article.  Professor Umbach raises some interesting questions for how we assign merit pay, and politely asks us to consider how those “fair rubrics” might perpetuate the pay gap.  Is it really “fair” to effectively penalize Art Historians or Philosophy professors because they aren’t eligible to compete for $500,000 grants from the National Science Foundation?  Since Corporate University (TM) is all about the money, honey, why haven’t colleges and universities figured out that it’s a lot cheaper to have/be an outstanding Liberal Arts college?  Historians and people in English and French departments don’t need half a million dollar labs to do our research–just a little time off, a library card, and perhaps some extra dough for research trips out of town.  That $500,000 for one lab could buy 10 humanities scholars a year of leave to go write their books and burnish their national and international reputations.)

One caveat:  the first comments on the article suggest that this pay gap arises because women allegedly don’t bargain for higher salaries when they’re hired.  False!  Trust me–Historiann has tried, but there’s that icky gender thing that happens then, too.  Whereas men are respected for being assertive and having a high opinion of themselves, women who take the same approach get less, because, well, who the hell do those pushy and obnoxious broads they think they are, anyway?  Mary Ward’s research demonstrates that in some cases, it does hurt to ask for more.  This is all of a piece with Historiann’s theory that across time and space women are expected to volunteer their labor, and only (some) men can expect to get paid for their work.

It's Boston Massacre Day!

boston-massacre-2.jpeg

Clinton, Obama, and McCain campaign teams take note:  here is some truly excellent propaganda by Paul Revere–238 years later, it still works.  (Please note the blanching or erasure of Crispus Attucks, the first American to die in a confrontation with British soldiers in the American Revolution, who was in fact of African and Algonquian ancestry.)

Thirteen years ago when I was living in Massachusetts, Historiann attended the historical reenactment of the Boston Massacre in front of the old Customs House.  Fortuitously, it was a dark and snowy night, just like in 1770, and the reenactors did a fine job.  I recommend that anyone see it at least once–tonight, they’re doing only a commemoration at 6:30 p.m.  Saturday the 8th is the big day for reenactment:  there is a kids’ reenactment at 11 and 2, and they’re doing another after-dark reenactment Saturday night at 7.  Details here!

'Tis a Privilege to Live in Colorado, as long as you don't work in higher ed

colorado_flag.jpgThe Denver Post proclaims, “‘Tis a Privilege to Live in Colorado” on its weather page most mornings.  But, since Historiann moved her entire household here in 2001, Colorado has been the state that keeps on giving in terms of embarassing news in general (Ted HaggardCrazy killersTom TancredoFocus on the Family!), and embarassing news about higher education in particular.  Back in 2001-03, Colorado should have changed its nickname from “The Centennial State” to “The Rape State” (thanks, CU Football rape team, Kobe Bryant, and Air Force Academy cadets, all of whom chose college women as their victims).  2003 was the year too that David Horowitz came to Colorado and met with the (then) Republican Governor and the President of the Colorado Senate to introduce his so-called “Academic Bill of Rights,” and the Governor (unsuccessfully) tried to get a political hack crony appointed President of Colorado State University

Ready for more?  (Take a deep breath!)  2004 was the year that the President of the University of Colorado, in a lawsuit stemming from the rape team’s hijinx, claimed in a deposition that the C-word (yes, that C-word!) wasn’t necessarily a misogynist insult, because in the middle ages it was a term of endearment.  (Nice try, but I don’t think there were too many Middle English scholars on the rape team, do you?)  2004 was also the year that two college students, one at CU and another at CSU famously drank themselves to death.  2005 was the year that Ward Churchill became the gift that kept on giving to Bill O’Reilly and other right-wing bottom-feeders.  Never mind that it’s only losing football coaches who make the big bucks around here–those of us who actually teach don’t have time to indoctrinate our students politically because we’re working so hard to make sure they finally understand the Investiture Controversy, or Dred Scott v. Sanford, or the correct use of apostrophes.  Despite the right-wing screams that conservatives can’t get a job around here, the actual history of faculty abuse in Colorado is that whisper campaigns calling people “Communists” is the only way to get someone dismissed without evidence and without cause. 

Now comes the news, courtesy of Inside Higher Ed, that Colorado now supports its prisons at nearly equal rates as it supports its colleges and universities.  State funding for prisons stands now at 78 cents for every dollar sent to higher education–compared to a rate of 18 cents on the dollar twenty years ago.  You don’t have to be a Marxist feminist to wonder if all of the political attacks on higher education, the absence of penalties for (and thus the perpetuation of) college men’s violent, drunken behavior, and the embarrassing incompetence in higher ed leadership in this state might be part of a conspiracy to undermine people’s willingness to support our institutions of higher learning at anything more than Wal-Mart rates.  Meanwhile, this state imports people with college degrees from everywhere else in the country because we can’t make enough of our own.  (This may not be a bad trend in the short run–perhaps sensible, well-educated people from California, Ohio, Illinois, and New Jersey can knock some sense into the local yokels that run this state.)

Many of you dear readers work in public higher ed in other states.  Tell me you’re all better off where you live.  Tell me how can we turn this thing around, and spend more money helping people here get college degrees instead of felony rap sheets.  (And, once they enroll, please tell me how to ensure that they don’t start their life of crime in college, as so many Colorado men seem to!)

Colonial history: yes indeed Ari, lots of massacres!

abenaki-western.jpgSo, yesterday I was working away in the library on my next impressive tome, and this link came in over the bloggy transom, Colonial History:  Nothing but Massacres?, in commemoration of the raid by French-allied Indians (Wabanaki, Hurons, and Mohawks) on Deerfield, Massachusetts on the night of February 28-29, 1704.  It was posted by Ari Kelman at The Edge of the American West at the very moment I was re-reading the neglected but bloody finale to Colonel Benjamin Church’s Indian-killing career as recounted in his Entertaining passages relating to Philip’s War which began in the month of June, 1675 (1716).  (Barbies in the morning, barbarism all afternoon–such is Historiann’s eccentric intellectual life!)  Contrary to the title, the book documents his successive Indian fighting expeditions through 1704, when at the age of 65 he proposed leading a murderous raid on the Wabanaki and French Acadians living around the Gulf of Maine in retaliation for the Deerfield attack.  Never mind that few if any Acadians or Maine Wabanaki were involved in the Deerfield raid–Church was probably looking for a pretext to attack in Maine and Acadia.  (He had attempted a similar raid in 1696 during King William’s War, when he succeeded in killing mostly livestock rather than French or Indian people.)

What does it mean when we frame colonial history (in Ari Kelman’s prankishly exaggerated term) as “nothing but massacres,” rather than as Anglo-American agricultural villages (“peaceable kingdoms”) that through the organic experience of small government developed the concept of “popular sovereignty” and Republicanism?  Well, for one, we get a colonial history that merges seamlessly with the history of the United States in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (“Manifest Destiny,” the Frontier Army, and U.S. imperialism from Cuba and the Phillipines to Iraq).  We also get a more inclusive picture of colonial America, which included Indian and African peoples as well as Europeans and Euro-Americans, as well as a colonial history that has more continuities rather than differences with the colonial histories of Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean, and central and South America.  Therefore, the “nothing but massacres” frame is something that seriously challenges claims to American Exceptionalism.

One of the problems colonial historians have in writing these more inclusive histories is that we have lengthy, detailed accounts of attacks on English towns and families written by the champlains-1607-gulf-of-maine.jpgsurvivors, but we have no comparable documentation of English attacks on Indian villages and families, and Native oral histories can’t entirely compensate.  Col. Church is so proud of his efforts to imprison and kill Wabanaki and French people that his neglected post-King Philip’s War career can fill in some of these gaps.  Church reports that his charge from Governor Joseph Dudley gives him free reign between the Piscataqua and St. Croix Rivers, and over to Mount Desert and Acadia (Nova Scotia), to “use all possible Methods for the burning and destroying of the Enemies Housing, and breaking the Dams of their Corn grounds in the said several places, and make what other Spoils you can upon them, and bring away the Prisoners.”  After they “kill’d and took every one both French & Indians, not knowing that any one did escape in all Penobscot,” they proceeded to “Passamequedo” up the St. Croix River, where Church was involved in a confusing skirmish with the scattered locals, “never asking whether they were French or Indians; they being all Enemies alike to me.”  Church and his men then proceeded to Acadia to sack and burn the French Acadian town of Menis (Minas), and to take “as many Prisoners as they could desire” from another Acadian town, but declined to attack Port Royal, and so returned to the mainland to seek out Wabanaki settlements in the Penobscot and Kennebec River valleys, especially the Catholic mission town at Norridgewock.

Church was unsuccessful in routing Norridgewock–he reports that when the Wabanaki there had heard that the English had “swept” Penobscot of its “Inhabitants, as if it had been swept with a Broom,” they cleared out of Norridgewock so quickly they left their “Ruff houshold-stuff and Corn behind them.”  (This was only one of many failed English expeditions to destroy Norridgewock and its French Jesuit missionaries–a feat they wouldn’t accomplish for another twenty years.)  The Norridgewock Wabanaki were mobile and had long-established connections with the mission Indians at St. Francis, near Quebec, but they probably didn’t all head North that summer of 1704–at least some of them remained to counter-attack English towns, especially Wells, Maine, where on August 10 they took dozens of captives, including Esther Wheelwright.  Church’s attacks were deadly, but they didn’t dissuade French and Wabanaki people from attacking English towns, as Church had hoped–his attacks probably only fueled their determination to drive the English out of Maine, and that’s a lesson that few in political and military leadership have ever seemed to learn in American history.

Benson voted next Prez of CU

Well, it looks like oilman and Republican Party hack Bruce Benson will be the next President of the University of Colorado.  All six Republican members of the Board of Regents voted in support of Benson.  Congratulations!  What a distinguished choice.

Good thing too–all those crazy liberals up in Boulder need to be shown who’s in charge.  (Confidential to the Board of Regents:  haven’t you noticed that you’re the only deliberative body left in the state that’s not run by Democrats?  Confidential to the Democratic majority Colorado General Assembly:  you can just send all of that money you won’t be sending to Boulder up to Fort Collins instead.)

UPDATE Feb. 25:  See Stanley Fish’s strange analysis in the New York Times today.  He writes, “While it would be wrong to take into account the political affiliations or business connections or wealth of a candidate for a faculty position, it would be wrong not to take these things into account when choosing a president,” implying that Benson would therefore be a reasonable candidate.  This would only make sense if Benson were a Democratic hack instead of a Republican hack.  (Why is it only Historiann who seems to know that THE ENTIRE STATE IS RUN BY DEMOCRATS NOW, so therefore appointing a prominent Republican would seem NOT to be in CU’s interest?  Duh!)  This article also points to the parallel situation in West Virginia that RadReadr suggested in the comments below a few days ago.  Maybe appointing people with business or political values instead of academic values isn’t such a smart plan after all?  Gee whiz!  (H/t to ej who e-mailed me the link to the Fish article.)