academia: April 2004 Archives

Singularly moronic

| | Comments (2)

There was an article and a colloquy last week about "Singular Mistreatment," which recounts research by someone named Bella DePaulo about how academia privileges married academics at the expense of singles. A number of my regular reads are talking about it, and so...

I'm going to leave aside the obvious distortion of including 15-year olds in the graphic so as to make the statistics seem more dramatic, since someone in the Colloquy already called them on it. I'm also going to set aside a lot of what's already been said on the topic, particularly the "children are our future" arguments about why we all should care about other people's children. Most of us, I suspect, already do to the degree that we can set aside our selfishness. Also, having never been set up on a date by a colleague, I'm not going to comment on the "single male colleague fetish."

Two things. One, I hope that everyone reads and thinks about Samantha's question, which went unanswered in the Colloquy, about the implications of describing single people as an "underrepresented minority," particularly at a time when an actual minority is struggling for the right to do what I could do tomorrow if I so chose. The most shocking line for me from Wilson's article:

While her proposal does not offer lots of detailed solutions, Ms. DePaulo believes that colleges should stop treating single professors like second-class citizens. "I don't just think about this as identity politics," she says, "it's about human rights."

This is perhaps the most misinformed, narcissistic nonsense I've ever had the pleasure of coming across in the Chronicle. She doesn't just think about this as identity politics, but I suppose that's because she doesn't seem to have gotten the memo about what identity politics actually is. And then to go on, and claim that it's a human rights issue? Please.

Second, this is off-topic, but bear with me:

"I was no longer content to try to squeeze this passionate interest into the crevices of my professional life," she wrote in a proposal for a book -- called "Singled Out" -- that she began sending to publishers in January.

So let me get this straight. The Chronicle of Higher Education, which refuses to acknowledge rhetoric/composition as a discipline (despite sending representatives to our conferences, taking our money for job ads, and the presence of dozens of grad programs, journals, conferences, and thousands of practitioners), is happy to acknowledge a one-person discipline, one whose "formative text" hasn't even gone through a peer-review process?

My point here isn't to bemoan our ill treatment at the hands of the Chronicle, though. It's simply to point out that it seems like their chronicling has become increasingly provocative in the past few years. I don't mean provocative-good, either. I mean that it seems like they are trying harder and harder to simply provoke response, and this feels to me like a great example. This kind of anecdotal stuff has no business being in the Chronicle, and I doubt it would be, if it weren't riling people up. Maybe DePaulo's book is better, with some sort of actual work that allows for local context but identifies some statistically relevant patterns nationally (ones that don't include 15-year olds in her stats about married people in the U.S.). Let's hope so, because stories about being asked to teach night classes or being set up on dates don't tell us a whole lot.

Expertise, anyone?

| | Comments (1)

Jill Walker has a post today about signing up to serve as an expert EU advisor, for reviewing proposals, programs, et al., and it put me in mind of another of my pet peeves with respect to our own organization here in rhetcompville.

One of the persistent themes of my discontent is the tendency to think of our field/discipline/organization as being smaller than it actually is. This shows up most often, I suppose, in the way that we abuse the term community to speak of ourselves. More concretely, I think that our organization is of a size that we often fail to appreciate the implications of the choices we make. The overuse of conference themes in papers and panels that have little to nothing to do with said themes is but one example. Jill's thoughts raise another for me, and that's the process by which proposals are selected and/or rejected.

My understanding of this process may not be entirely accurate, but that in itself only serves to prove my point--it shouldn't be opaque to someone who has been in the field for more than a decade. Anyhow, my understanding is that the Chair in a given year selects proposal reviewers, period. How is this done? As far as I can tell, the criteria for selecting proposal reviewers are two: the Chair knows you (or knows someone who knows you); and/or, you reviewed proposals in a given area the year before.

My guess is that if you were to study the qualifications of these reviewers over a ten-year period, you would actually not find that they weren't qualified. But you probably would discover that the vast majority of them have connections (either positions at or degrees from) a small percentage of schools. And back in the day, when this handful was pretty much all there was, that made some sense. The conference was smaller, the range of topics narrower, and it was conceivable for a Chair to come to the position with a pretty good idea of who was qualified.

This is no longer possible, however, and in a field where so much emphasis is placed on our flagship conference, it would be nice to see some effort expended to adapt the proposal process to the actual size and composition of the field, rather than an outdated, utopian, who-you-know network.

And yes, there are some sour grapes operating here--insides and outsides abound, and the closest I've come to being inside was to take a position in a department where a CCCC Chair once worked (although he was gone by the time I arrived). The answer to this insider problem, though, isn't for me to simply figure out a way to get inside--it's to open the process up to the kind of system that Jill describes. If I'm a qualified scholar, and I'm interested, there should be an easy self-nomination process whereby I might be (at least) considered. There are plenty more qualified than I, but certainly not all of them, unless we stick to the FOAF criteria that currently operate.

After a certain point, the size of a network prohibits any one person (or even program) from being able to stay abreast of all the network's members and their various expertises. It is no longer possible to assume that if one hasn't heard of someone, then that person isn't very important or qualified. When the network hits a particular size, that assumption tips, and unless changes are made, importance and qualification end up depending on whether or not someone at the core has heard of you.

In case you're not feeling me here, that's the process by which A-Lists are made, and the rest of us grumble. We're goaded by the spirit of hierarchy, to quote KB, even as we claim to resist it. And I could easily imagine solving this issue with a small change in policy and a database.



Powered by Movable Type 4.1

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the academia category from April 2004.

academia: March 2004 is the previous archive.

academia: May 2004 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.