Recommended reads #89


A couple truly spectacular reads have already made the rounds in social media in the last week, but in case you haven’t caught them, be sure to do so:

First, the Washington Post published a long-form piece about Derek Black, former media star of white nationalists who grew to repudiate his views. How did this happen? The free exchange of ideas and mutual respect found in higher education. If you’re looking for a defense of a liberal arts education (which can be found in potentially any university), then this might be as great as it gets.

Second, the Arizona Republic editorial staff received many death threats because they endorsed a particular presidential candidate. (Okay, a let’s all take moment to breathe, to absorb this fact.) The response from the publisher is powerful and important.

How you might change as a professor as you get older. Which reminded me of an earlier piece by Female Science Professor about dealing with disrespect. (Speaking of which, it’s now been 1.5 years since she posted, I just noticed. That was a remarkable run. Thanks for everything over those eight years, Female Science Professor.)

Black and Latino students are excluded from top public universities. Please, please read this. There are substantial data here, that you can take to your chair, dean, and VPs and ask for reallocation of funds to fix this situation, and to the graduate program to change how they court and evaluate applicants.

Editors share their dirty little secrets about academic publishing. None of this is really secret but if you haven’t been in the biz for a while, this look under the hood might be insightful.

The emotional weight of bring graded, for better or worse.

Why for-profit education fails.

The Bearded Lady Project hits the pages of Nature!

Speaking of bearded ladies, I read the Castle Waiting graphic novel earlier this year. I recommend. It might be in a library near you!

A radiantly truth-telling acceptance speech for the Truman Capote Award for literary criticism, highlighting the exploitative employment in academia:

All of this is to say that the profession of literary criticism depends upon exploitation. Even this formulation is too soothingly vague, so let us be more direct: If you are a tenured (or tenure-track) faculty member teaching in a humanities department with Ph.D. candidates, you are both the instrument and the direct beneficiary of exploitation. Your roles as teacher, adviser and committee member generate, cultivate and exploit young people’s devotion to literature. This is the great shame of our profession. We tell our students to study literature because it will make them better human beings, that in our classrooms they will learn empathy and wisdom, thoughtfulness and understanding. And yet the institutions supporting literary criticism are callous and morally incoherent.

One century ago, professors were not stuck under piles and piles of student writing to grade. Because students wrote way less. (I guess one could argue that they are writing even less now than back then, perhaps, because copy-and-paste plagiarism is so widespread.)

How one guy in Illinois is tweaking national poll averages.

Would you like to participate in the Gatekeeper Project? They are “crowdsourcing data collection on the composition of the Editorial Boards of academic journals. [They] seek to understand how and why Editorial Board composition varies within and across disciplines and then use these data to help scholars, academic societies, editors, and publishers in their efforts to make the Editorial Boards of our journals more inclusive and diverse.” It won’t take that long to plunge into back issues of a journal to score them for editorial composition. But it can make a big difference in this dataset. Let’s get some real data together to inform effective decision making. Small investment, potentially big payoff. This kind of thing would be perfect for a class project!

Why an ag class should be required for high school graduation. You could build a strong argument that a big fix for what ails our economy, environment, health, and such is making sure that people understand how they are connected to the food they eat.

Ticks that trigger meat allergies are doing their thing more and more. It was documented in the US less than ten years ago, and now it’s being found on other continents, and booming in Australia. I wouldn’t ever want to endanger anybody’s health, but imagine if this were widespread, how would this change food production and carbon pollution?

The New York Times does a brilliant profile of Katharine Hayhoe, explaining to us how she is a hero and role model from whom we can all learn.

Here’s a counter-example from Hayhoe, when it comes to dealing with people who disagree with you: Jerry Coyne is being deliberately obtuse by insisting that race is not a social construct. Coyne wants to talk about race, but it emerges very quickly that he doesn’t understand what “race” is, among people who study race. You don’t need to be an expert on everything, but if you’re going to write about something that’s beyond your depth, then crikey don’t you need to show a willingness to learn?

How to know if your college has a race problem. This is a humor piece that is so funny because it’s so true. (Unless you’re Coyne, who I imagine would argue that colleges don’t have a race problem because, as he’ll tell us, race is a biological fact and not a social construct.)

It isn’t easy being an applied ecologist.

“The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History is a treasure….And it is dying.” This raises an interesting point about the attrition of curatorial staff, if you can overlook the third paragraph, which is a not-helpful non-sequitur.

5 common misperceptions about the tenure-track job search. I endorse. (Except for number four, which says that if you get a job offer, you can probably defer for a year before starting. Your mileage may vary. Some places actually are hiring you to teach a particular class, and might not want to give you a year. This post says “top programs recognize the value of this flexibility.” I think everybody recognizes this value, but programs that are not perceived as “top” might not have the luxury of this flexibility even though they recognize its utility.)

Here’s a story from the beginning of the year about the annual slaughter of birds in Cyprus, which is hitting a peak now during the fall migration. Two million songbirds caught as food while crossing the Mediterranean! My gosh.

An obituary for the Great Barrier Reef was published. This wasn’t a good idea.

Diversity and the Hidden Truths of Tenure:

The academy may claim to seek and value diversity in its professoriate, but reports from faculty of color around the country make clear that departments and administrators discriminate in ways that range from unintentional to malignant. Stories abound of scholars–despite impressive records of publication, excellent teaching evaluations, and exemplary service to their universities–struggling on the tenure track. These stories, however, are rarely shared for public consumption.  Written/Unwritten reveals that faculty of color often face two sets of rules when applying for reappointment, tenure, and promotion: those made explicit in handbooks and faculty orientations or determined by union contracts and those that operate beneath the surface. It is this second, unwritten set of rules that disproportionally affects faculty who are hired to “diversify” academic departments and then expected to meet ever-shifting requirements set by tenured colleagues and administrators.

I have a post I was planning to write about the written rules and the unwritten rules. But hey, here’s the whole book. Maybe I’ll have to read the book first. I think it’s critical for junior faculty (well – actually every person) to be familiar with the existence of unwritten rules and how hard it is to learn what those rules are, and how they vary, often unpredictably, from place to place. There’s a review of this book in the Chronicle of Higher Ed but I haven’t read it, because I’d have to go through the trouble of logging in through my university and all that, and meh I’m busy.

Brian McGill on what we might do about serial bullies that are able to take root in academia.

Aaron Ellison is asking us to get more serious, more reasonable, and more political about conservation.

I guess that’s why they call it the high road.

The division between intellect and emotion seems to linger in higher education. Thought is what’s important. And emotion? Less so. Kindness, however, requires both thought and emotion. It requires reacting to other people as people. It requires empathy. It requires a reaching out rather than a closing off.”

Here’s an excellent explainer about what Trump supporters really are thinking. It’s kind of dicey for an author to claim they know what other people are thinking, but this one actually pulls it off, I think.

Did you enjoy this list? Could you do me a favor and share it on facebook or twitter or out the window of a 2-story building? And the more folks that “like” Small Pond or “follow” Small Pond, the better for the site. Have a nice weekend, y’all. (And a particular thanks to Chris Buddle and Andy Suarez, who, like watches I never need to wind, unfailingly share this list every two weeks.)

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