Saturday, October 13, 2007

Weekend reading

Off at the Association for Political Theory conference having a grand time. Your assigned reading while I'm away:

chez Solum, Jensen on Attire & a Comment on the "goes with" Relationship. (Trust me.)

Chez Yglesias, Why So Few Utilitarians?,which expresses a crucially important and underappreciated truth of academic life that's much more general than the case discussed.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Image of the day

Me: I'm in one home stretch... and can see the guy holding the starting pistol for the next race just past the finish line.

Wayne Norman: This sounds like an allegory of my life; all our lives. Except that that guy with the starting pistol usually positions himself long before the finish line of the preceding race.

Me: well, yeah. But I'm not going to acknowledge he's there until I'm past the preceding finish line.

Wayne: yeah, otherwise it's just too scary. It's like when police states get to host the olympics and there are guys with guns ringing the track.
The future is another country

Candidates for the Nobel Prize in literature as identified by betting markets and "in Stockholm literary circles," according to an article that went online an hour ago at this writing: Phillip Roth, Haruki Murakami, Amos Oz, Yves Bonnefoy, Mario Vargas Llosa, Carlos Fuentes, Joyce Carol Oates, Ko Un, Antonio Tabucchi, Claudio Magris, Thomas Pynchon, Assia Djebar, Peter Nadas, Maryse Conde.

The prize was awarded 40 minutes ago to... Doris Lessing.

I haven't had time to blog about the extraordinarily depressing results of the La Presse poll on the accommodation of religious minorities (linked story and poll results are both in French). Still don't, but I will at some point. It's not good. Every accommodation of or basic freedom for a non-Christian religion-- prayer spaces, individuals wearing hijabs or turbans or kirpans in public schools or public employment, cafeterias serving kosher or halaal food-- is opposed by a Quebecois majority, and typically by 65-90%. Meanwhile, 68% want to leave the Catholic crucifix in the National Assembly (NB to non-locals: Quebec's provincial parliament).

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The perils of generational commentary

I'm currently reading a book by a very distinguished academic-- with 'distinguished' used in both the sincere and the euphemistic sense. And I've been struck by the author's repeated disgruntlement with "recent" developments in this or that academic literature-- where "recent" typically means the mid-to-late 80s and never means anything later than the mid-90s.

I thought of that again in light of this David Brooks column (hat tip Phoebe Maltz). In discussing the recent development of the unattached decade or so between college and marriage, referred to as the "odyssey" years, he observes:
And as the new generational structure solidifies, social and economic entrepreneurs will create new rites and institutions. Someday people will look back and wonder at the vast social changes wrought by the emerging social group that saw their situations first captured by “Friends” and later by “Knocked Up.”

NB: "Friends" debuted in 1994. At its outset, Ross had a Ph.D. and an ex-wife of several years, making him, at bare minimum, 26 or 27 years old. It has been off the air for more than three years, and by the time it ended almost every lead character was married, had children, or both. Ross would be 40 by now.

A current 25-year old was 12 when Friends debuted. Even a current 30-year old was 17. They did not see their situations captured by Friends then. They were 22 or 27 when it went off the air, and also didn't see their situations captured by the old folks struggling with biological clocks and the legacies of three divorces.

By contrast, "Knocked Up" was released in 2007. Old people my age who might have been twenty-something slackers in the mid-90s are not now 23-year olds, and do not see our situations reflected in the experience of people accidentally cutting their "odyssey years" short. Indeed, people who identified with "Friends" when it was on are more likely to be entering fertility-treatment time than accidental-pregnancy-in-post-college-hookup time.

In short: No one can meet Brooks' description. Much as I might like to believe that there's no great difference between a current 40-year old and a current 23-year old, my wishing it doesn't make it so. It's an occupational hazard of talking about generations younger than oneself to run them all together, and boomers are especially prone to it, but that means you probably don't want to use conspicuously dated and dateable markers for your discussion, even if you think it makes you seem contemorary and with-it.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Politics in the academy, part MLCCCXVII of a continuing series

From the Chronicle.

Conservatives are a small minority within the American professoriate, according to a major study whose results were released on Saturday. The study -- which is arguably the best-designed survey of American faculty beliefs since the early 1970s -- found that only 9.2 percent of college instructors are conservatives, and that only 20.4 percent voted for George W. Bush in 2004.

But at a symposium on Saturday at Harvard University, the study's authors cast doubt on certain claims made by conservative critics of academe. They emphasized that American faculty members are not uniformly left-wing. On most issues, they said, college instructors' views are better characterized as "centrist" or "center-left." And there is evidence of a convergence toward moderation: Faculty members who are 35 or younger are less likely than their elders to be left-wing (and also less likely to be conservative).

"The claim of extreme leftism is not well supported," said Solon J. Simmons, an assistant professor of sociology at George Mason University's Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. "But the number of conservatives -- 9.2 percent -- is lower than what one might have found in the past. If there is any change in the data over time, conservatives seem to be falling away from the academy and being replaced by, perhaps, moderates." Mr. Simmons conducted the study with Neil Gross, an assistant professor of sociology at Harvard.

Among the study's findings:

* Faculty members lean sharply to the left on issues of gender, sexuality, and foreign policy. [...]
* On issues of race and economic policy, the leftward tilt is much less pronounced. [...]

* Liberal-arts colleges have the highest concentrations of left-of-center faculty members. Only 3.9 percent of instructors at liberal-arts colleges are conservatives. Community colleges have the smallest proportion of liberals (37.1 percent) and the highest proportion of conservatives (19 percent). "Elite, Ph.D.-granting institutions" fall in the middle, with 10.2 percent of faculty members identifying themselves as conservative. That pattern contrasts with the well-known studies conducted in the early 1970s by Everett Carll Ladd Jr. and Seymour Martin Lipset, who found that conservatives were rarest at the most elite institutions.

Conservatives are rarest in the humanities (3.6 percent) and social sciences (4.9 percent), and most common in the health sciences (20.5 percent) and business (24.5 percent). Only 7.8 percent of instructors in the physical and biological sciences are conservatives, which is a sharp decline from the level found by Mr. Ladd and Mr. Lipset in the 1970s.

* Faculty members broadly support the idea of political openness on campus. When asked whether "the goal of diversity should include fostering diversity of political views among faculty members," 68.8 percent agreed. (That figure struck one participant in the symposium as disturbingly low. "Where are the other 31 percent?" asked Jonathan L. Zimmerman, a professor of the history of education at New York University. "What are they thinking?") When asked whether "professors are as curious and open-minded today as they have ever been," 79.9 percent of the total sample said yes -- but 46.3 percent of the conservative respondents disagreed.

The scholars at Saturday's meeting offered a wide variety of arguments about what those numbers might mean, and whether they are a problem for academe. Harvard's former president, Lawrence H. Summers, praised the sophistication of Mr. Gross and Mr. Simmons's study but said that he views the results more pessimistically than they do.

"The data in this paper surprised me in the opposite direction that it surprised the authors," said Mr. Summers, who is now a university professor at Harvard. "It made me think that there is even less ideological diversity in the American university than I had imagined."

In his remarks, Mr. Summers concentrated on a subset of the data concerning elite, Ph.D.-granting universities. In humanities and social-science departments at those institutions, Mr. Summers pointed out, not a single instructor reported voting for President Bush in 2004.

Regardless of the salience of that last metric, I think Summers is right that the headline numbers mask some very important variation. If that whopping 9.2% conservative figure is that high because of community colleges and business departments; if those figures of 3.6% humanities and 4.9% social sciences are right, then in the areas where the charge of political bias in the academy are most prevalent and most important, things are more uniform than I would have thought.

I've been reading stories about this kind of thing for years, and I was still startled by those figures.

Inside Higher Ed has a non-gated story along with a more detailed breakdown of figures.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

You know...

It would have been nice if the Red Sox had been playing like this for the past two months. But all things considered, I'll take the current arrangement and not complain; better a great postseason than a great end to the season.

Update: And, of course, if those were the last three innings of Roger Clemens' career, that's just icing on the cake. I can't really say that I'm rooting for Joe Torre to lose his job, but my admiration for Torre doesn't extend to the Rocket.