If you haven’t been watching the news lately, you might not have noticed that the United States is in the midst of a national moment in which university students are speaking and acting out in response to the perennial marginalization of minorities. I imagine more things will emerge, but here is the rundown from a few campuses:
At Mizzou, years of administrative disregard for an environment that minimizes and threatens black students came to a boil with a particularly hateful action that was met with the same do-nothing attitude by the President and the Chancellor. The football team went on strike, and then, in a jiffy, the President and Chancellor stepped down. Since then, protests have grown. Here’s a clear take on the strike at Mizzou this from Dave Zirin, who writes about the intersection of sports and politics. (also, HK and I talk about the Mizzou situation at length in the Not Just Scientists episode coming out this weekend)
At Yale, years of a social environment that marginalized black and Latino students ended up in protests in response to what seems to be a rather reasonable email from a faculty member that encouraged dialogue about culturally appropriative and racist costumes. (Or, as some have put it, the email suggested the campus should be tolerant of racist Halloween costumes because it’s a part of the intellectual experience.) But really, what’s happening at Yale isn’t about Halloween costumes:
For starters: the protests are not really about Halloween costumes or a frat party. They’re about a mismatch between the Yale we find in admissions brochures and the Yale we experience every day. They’re about real experiences with racism on this campus that have gone unacknowledged for far too long. The university sells itself as a welcoming and inclusive place for people of all backgrounds. Unfortunately, it often isn’t.
Yesterday, protests resulted in the prompt resignation of the Dean of Claremont McKenna College (CMC), one of the well-endowed liberal arts Claremont Colleges, just east of me in the LA area. Why would the Dean resign so quickly? A student (a Neuroscience major, by the way) wrote an eloquent op-ed piece in the student paper about how CMC is often hostile to her because she is a Latina. She heard crickets from the university. Then, she wrote to her Dean, and sent a copy of the article along with her, to let her know about these concerns. Here’s the email:
That’s a screamingly horrible email in two ways. First, it’s disingenuous. The Dean said she’d love to talk “sometime.” You and I know what that means. No administrator replies to an email with the hope that it will result in an extended email conversation leading to an appointment. If the student’s email said she wanted to talk and donate a six-figure check, the Dean would scramble to pin the student down for an appointment. So, obviously, the Dean didn’t really want to talk, or she would have made an appointment to talk. The second horrible part of this email is the fact that the Dean said the Latina did not fit the mold of the college. That deserves little more than a: WTF? There’s a mold, and the student doesn’t fit that mold? That deserves a second WTF!?
Is that email a firing offense or a step-down-worthy offense? On its own, I don’t think so. Of course, blowing students off when it comes to accusations of a racist environment is hideous. It could have just been badly worded, a quick type-on-the-phone and maybe she did want to talk. The email suggests that the college has a mold for the campus that doesn’t fit Latinas, which is harder to explain. But still, why did the Dean step down, and so quickly? Because of the long-standing conditions that led to this email exchange. Because the marginalization of students from underrepresented groups is an obvious fact on campus and for years nothing serious has been done about it by the Dean. And she knew it.
With protests burgeoning across the country, a lot of us — including myself — are listening to the students. If you’re not impressed with the way students are protesting, I imagine a careful read of this spectacular piece about the protests, from Tressie Cottom, might put things in perspective.
I’m not really interested in hearing any critiques about how the protests are going down from anybody who hasn’t spent years as a black or Latina student on a primarily white campus. It’s our time to listen, even if some of us don’t like what exactly the protests are saying or how they’re going about saying it.
Are these student protests silly and futile? Well, maybe, but please — please — take them seriously. The perpetuation of racism and inequity on university campuses (and of course, well beyond) is not something to be overlooked.
Meanwhile, Washington University in St. Louis is embarking on a five-year-plan to increase socioeconomic diversity. Their plan seems to be focused on recruitment, and there doesn’t seem to be much about investing in the cultivation of a campus environment that supports and accepts the students once they arrive. Hmmm.
Outside this set of issues, what else is shaking?
The editors of Genetics say the Impact Factor is dumb, and that using this measure to make decisions is like making arbitrary lines in the sand. We get a somewhat different take on Impact Factors from Scientist Sees Squirrel.
Anybody familiar with urban planning knows that by expanding freeways, you just create more traffic congestion. But what’s new is that the California Department of Transportation finally admits this fact.
The entire editorial board of a linguistics journal published by Elsevier resigned, because Elsevier didn’t support the society opening up the journal with relatively inexpensive open-access fees. All six lead editors and all 31 members of the editorial board stepped down. The open access model isn’t shaking out that well, it seems.
Nature published a well-researched and straightforward journalistic piece about sexism and science on Twitter. It contains many excellent interviews. “Twitter is that thought under your breath.” It is unfortunate that the editors of Nature didn’t use this opportunity to directly address its history of overt sexism in their own editorial and opinion pieces in recent years, though I wouldn’t expect the author to have addressed it in her piece directly. If you’re trying to understand the social function of twitter in science, this is a good read.
Speaking of which, if you’re not entirely weary of the Tim Hunt saga, a very detailed and information-laden post-mortem came out this week. I think the general narrative that people have settled on is, “People heard Tim Hunt said terrible things, but then news came out that it was taken out of context and misrepresented, and actually he’s a stand-up guy who didn’t really say anything sexist.” That doesn’t seem to match up with the facts, though. Here’s what I think is the lid to put on this story, which is well substantiated with a ton of information:
In the end, the parable of Tim Hunt is indeed a simple one. He said something casually sexist, stupid and inappropriate which offended many of his audience. He then confirmed he said what he was reported to have said and apologised twice. The matter should have stopped there. Instead a concerted effort to save his name — which was not disgraced, nor his reputation as a scientist jeopardized — has rewritten history. Science is about truth. As this article has shown, we have seen very little of it from Hunt’s apologists — merely evasions, half-truths, distortions, errors and outright falsehoods.
Here’s a great piece to share with conservatives about climate change from a former climate denier. You know it’s conservative because it insults Naomi Klein! Here’s the take-home: “The existence of man-made warming does not mandate any particular policies… If generally rising temperatures, decreasing diurnal temperature differences, melting glacial and sea ice, smaller snow extent, stronger rainstorms, and warming oceans are not enough to persuade you that man-made climate is occurring, what evidence would be?”
Do you know who Peter Scholze is? He’s the mathematician who turned down a $100,000 New Horizons in Mathematics Prize from the Breakthrough Prize people. That’s a story I’d like to know more about.
Chemjobber asks whether teaching postdocs are a good thing. (Well, if a postdoc wants a job at a primarily undergraduate institution, then I think this a step in that direction. But I don’t have the statistics about hiring practices and outcomes to back it up.)
Andrew Hendry advises How To Teach.
Irony so thick you’d need a chainsaw to cut into it: The Huffington Post criticizes academic journals for taking advantage of their authors.
A very good guide to academic blogging.
Speaking of academic blogging, this might be the finest piece of it I’ve read in a long, long while: Why is the human vagina so big?
Should academic conferences have codes of conduct? Of course they should!
Tenure is disappearing. But it’s what made American universities the best in the world. If you can forgive the author the American exceptionalism (hey’s it’s election season, just one more year to go!) this is pretty good.
“Desperate Environmentalism” won’t save the environment. This is a really important point, that environmentalists don’t seem to have their eyes on the prize for really big things like we used to.
One thing I learned in my twenties is that most USians don’t use the specific article the when referring to highways and freeways. Such as the 110 or the 405. They just call the 110, “110.” Not “a 110.” but “110” – more like a person than an actual physical thing. But apparently as an Angeleno, I’ve learned people think we’re the weirdos. Here’s the explanation about how this came to be.
The Australian Research Council publishes an account about how they pick which projects to fund. This is a very ugly sausage factory.
Have a great weekend, folks.
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