Wrong Thinkers Anonymous

After Charlottesville, I was one of the few people in my circle of acquaintances who refused calls to “punch Nazis.” I do not believe that meeting violence with violence will stop further violence. Instead, I try to understand why people are violent. Not by using individualist explanations, like mental illness, but by using sociological tools. One of sociology’s greatest gifts is the understanding that people are social creatures, and that our behavior, our ideas, our belief systems, our actions, our emotions, etc. are shaped by society. So I have tried to understand hate groups and ideologies of those groups and the movement(s) they spawn. Hating the individuals in the movements, and calling for violence against them, only makes them defensive and more dangerous. It was this realization that prompted the cartoon, Wrong Thinkers Anonymous in the days after Charlottesville.wrong_thinkers_anonymous

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The execution of Sociology

The University of Alaska Fairbanks has hit hard times due to the state’s budget crisis. Academic programs are being slashed across the state, and dozens of faculty jobs have been eliminated. Across Alaska, nearly 1000 people have lost their university jobs. We protested on the street corner, wrote resolutions to Faculty Senates, wrote letters to professional organizations, testified to the Board of Regents, begged and pleaded with administrators, but the UAF Department of Sociology was deleted in June 2017. Both the BA and BS in Sociology are on the chopping block. I cannot even begin to describe how heartbreaking this is for me. I went through all of the stages of grief–denial, anger, sadness, back into anger, then sadness again, all the time literally bargaining with other departments and administrators. Perhaps you can tell by my latest cartoon that I am back in the anger stage again. The execution of sociology

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Adjunct Office Hours

cartoon picturing a person sitting in a lawnchair in a snowstorm

by Sine Anahita 2017

To ease the pain, people at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) make jokes about the plight of adjunct instructors.  At UAF, adjuncts usually do not have dedicated office space. They are often expected to use their own computers and to provide their own internet access, even when they are teaching distance-delivered courses. They do not have access to printers, have to park in the farthest parking lots, and earn a tiny fraction of what full time professors earn. They are limited to teaching only 15 credits per year (five classes at three credits each). There are no benefits like health insurance, retirement, or sick pay, and at the university of Alaska they don’t even get to pay into Social Security. And here’s the real rub: most of the adjunct instructors I know are dedicated professionals, often with terminal degrees in their field. They love to teach, and they are good at it. But with the current state-wide budget crisis, administrators look at adjuncts as cheap labor. So instead of hiring them as non-tenure track instructors (formerly known as term instructors until the most recent United Academics CBA 2017), deans hire them as adjuncts and pay them a pittance. Their classes can be cancelled up to two weeks after they start teaching, and in my college (College of Liberal Arts), they often do not receive their contract or even final notice that they will be teaching the course, until a day or two before classes begin. That means that they prepare to teach the class, e.g. create a syllabus, design the course, put materials online, etc., without knowing whether they will actually get to teach the class or not. And no, they are not paid for the preparatory work that happens the week or two before classes begin. In short, adjunct instructors are highly exploited labor who make substantial contributions to education. I made this cartoon to ease my own feelings of survivor guilt.

 

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Busted: How Your Professor Caught You Plagiarizing

plagiarism-4

Students: do you ever wonder how professors catch plagiarism? Following are some tips to avoid getting caught:

 

  1. when you copy something from Wikipedia, make sure you delete hyperlinks after pasting into your document;
  2. avoid copying online material that uses words you do not understand and that may be inapplicable for the discipline in which you are writing, e.g. “synoptic meta-scale dynamics” are not sociological terms;
  3. watch for tags at the end of phrases that may tip off your professor, e.g. “click here for more reviews of this book”;
  4. make sure you do not copy the formatting of the online source; a sudden switch from 12 pt. Times Roman to 18 pt. Cooper Black in the middle of a term paper is a dead giveaway;
  5. remember that professors read the course textbook, and so we will likely recognize text that is plagiarized from the book;
  6. know that we read other textbooks as well; copying text from a research methods text in Criminology instead of Sociology will probably backfire;
  7. note that people in the UK or Canada spell certain words differently than Americans; if you are a US student and you spell behavior with a “u”, as in behaviour, Word will put a squiggly red line underneath it, emphasizing its wrongness, and prompting your professor to google the entire sentence to find its online source;
  8. possibly my favorite: understand that professors will recognize text that is plagiarized from their own research articles (yes, I am THAT Sine Anahita)

Every single one of these tips come from my own experience with students. The very worst case I ever had was when a student told me that he didn’t know that the person he paid to write the essay was going to plagiarize it. Seriously?? I didn’t know whether to sob or to laugh hysterically. Maybe a little of both, eh?

Here are some sites that suggest hacks and other strategies to avoid being caught in an act of plagiarism. Of course, now that I know these exist, I will add these to my list of ways to catch plagiarism.

https://scholarlyoa.com/2013/02/07/five-ways-to-defeat-automated-plagiarism-detection/

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/cheat-turnitins-algorithm-avoid-plagiarism-giuseppe-macario

http://old.noplag.com/blog/how-students-try-to-cheat-plagiarism-checkers/

You can even purchase services that will hack your plagiarized work so that TurnItIn and SafeAssign do not work, e.g. http://www.cheatturnitin.com/ Do me a favor; when you purchase this service, tell them who referred you. I might get a commission.

The cartoon above is from this site: http://shaikhasker.blogspot.com/2014/09/academic-plagiarism-and-bangladesh.html

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Lady Athletes

lady-chargers

You never know when a bar conversation will wind up being some sociologist’s blog post. Earlier this week, I was hanging out at the Golden Eagle Saloon, a favorite local bar in Ester, AK. There were footballs games playing silently on the TV. At some point, I mused that I had seen college women volleyball teams on TV who wore makeup while playing and I found that simply astounding, given that women sweat as mightily as men when they compete. My conversation partner noted that women athletes wear eye makeup for the same reason that (men) football players wear black grease under their eyes: to reduce glare. After my initial guffaw, I realized my friend was serious, so like the professional sociologist that I am, I decided to google it.

palomarAs it turns out, women college athletes do indeed wear tons of makeup, and also wear their hair long, shave their legs and armpits, and are otherwise required to look pretty and feminine. But it’s not because lipstick or eye makeup reduce glare and improve performance. It’s because of social expectation that women always look attractive for the male gaze.

Consider the 2016 brouhaha over women athletes at the Olympics when Fox News asked two male commentators about whether women should be wearing makeup while competing: ““I think when you see an athlete, why should I have to look at some chick’s zits? Why not a little blush on her lips and cover those zits?” Click here for more insights from this pair: http://www.si.com/tech-media/2016/08/11/rio-olympics-fox-news-women-wearing-makeup-segment

Ahem.

While googling “women athletes and makeup” I stumbled upon another insight. Team photos of women’s college teams differ sharply from team photos of men’s college teams. Men stand or sit casually together, their arms often folded over their chests or their hands clasped either behind or in front. Men’s knees and feet are spread in a natural fashion. But women’s teams usually sit in ladylike fashion, their knees together, hands clasped demurely on their laps. They often cross their legs, or cross their ankles. When women’s teams stand for the photograph, often they pose with their hands on the knees in the stereotypical sorority girl pose, or they put one hand on their hip and throw it out, like a fashion model.

The differences in the way that men and women college athletes appear in photographs is most stark in co-ed swim teams. Men stand shoulder to shoulder, hands relaxing at their sides, clasped behind or in front, in natural, comfortable, relaxed ways. But women on the team sit with their knees tightly locked together, hands uniformly clasped in their lap.

This all feels like some kind of bizarre time warp to me.

I could go on and on, but I will leave you with just this video of a college volleyball player demonstrating how to put on her game face. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z6UyZ2QRjd8

 

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No More Duct Tape Bandaids

duct tapeThere is no question that the University of Alaska (UA) is facing a massive budget crisis. What we have been doing–tinkering with the structure, adding more layers of bureaucracy, reducing programs through faculty attrition, instituting horizontal cuts that create frustrating bottlenecks but don’t lower costs–these have not been working. It’s time for UA to stop applying duct tape bandages in futile attempts to cure the budget crisis. I agree with President James Johnsen that UA needs to make some bold changes.

When I look at Strategic Pathways with an open mind, I recognize some good principles. For example, the idea of reducing redundant programs and integrating physical departments by using distance teaching technologies–this idea I like a lot. The university will have to invest in infrastructure to achieve this, however, and so will the state of Alaska. Our state’s internet system, quite frankly, sucks. We have too few internet providers for them to be competitive with each other, so they just offer the bare minimum and charge way too much money. So along with reducing duplicate programs and replacing them with a single strong, collaboratively-offered program, we will have to work with communication corporations, the state, maybe the feds to improve Alaska’s communication systems. And the UA will have to invest in smarter classrooms, web-conferencing systems, and in resources that will teach us teachers how to best use these resources.

I also agree with Johnsen’s plan to move to a single accreditation model. Today’s students are more mobile, technologically at least, than previous generations. They need to be able to access a cafeteria model of courses and programs, and not have to feel as if their coursework at UAS will not integrate with their coursework at UAF. UA Statewide will need to figure out how to fairly allocate tuition dollars and other resources among the various units, but the idea of a single university spread among multiple physical locations really appeals to the “we don’t give a damn how they do it Outside” Alaskan in me. Additionally, I think the idea of a single accreditation model will strengthen faculty tenure. And if faculty senates and staff councils and other governance organizations are combined, or at least if they collaborate more and better, then faculty and staff will become more empowered. Or, maybe I should say we would become re-empowered.

Our administrative structure is definitely too top-heavy. There are many people, mostly men, who seem to have just floated up to the top of the heap without making any really valuable contributions along the way. But the reduction of the number of administrators by eliminating the chancellor positions—this idea I’m still mulling over. I would have preferred that secondary level chancellor positions be targeted instead. Currently, vice chancellors’ shops, at UAF at least, seem to act as fiefdoms. I worry that there will be a proliferation of these VC-type shops if chancellors go away. On the other hand, I have supreme confidence in UAF’s current Provost, Susan Henrichs. If Provosts were to become the highest level administrators at each campus, I think UAF would be in good shape. I don’t know enough about the Provosts at UAA or UAS.

The idea of concentrating power up at UA Statewide… this I do not like, at least not in the long-term. I have much confidence in our current President, Jim Johnsen. I think I trust him. But some of our past presidents, well, the thought of them having even more power just makes me shiver. In a bad way. Think #bonusgate. Perhaps if we could ensure that there is a balance of power–Faculty Senates having a right of veto on major initiatives, for example, or the opportunity for faculty and staff to annually evaluate the president and Statewide, maybe this would keep Statewide accountable and prevent too much concentration of power in the wrong hands. And we definitely have to increase transparency at Statewide and prevent them from sneaking in policy changes without sufficient governance participation!

I think I like the selection method Johnsen suggested for the next interim chancellor for UAF. If the process works as he outlined, then faculty and staff will actually have MORE input than we have had in the past. Everyone will be able to have input on all of the applicants. Search committees at UAF have become way too political. The old system has not been working for us. Why not try something different? Especially since the next interim chancellor will be very short term. I definitely like the idea that applicants must have worked for UAF in the past. We will already know the warts and beauty of every candidate, with no surprises a few months from now. There is also a measure of safety here in appointing an interim who has the right of return to her/his former position: the interim chancellor won’t be as likely to make bad decisions that piss off colleagues, because s/he will have to go back and work among them after the interim chancellor gig is done.

The crisis calls for bold changes. I don’t like all of the ideas being presented by the BoR and President Johnsen, but I do know that what we have been doing is not working. My main criticism of the University of Alaska, at the system level on down to what’s going on in my college, is a continual sense of being STUCK with no active, collaborative decision-making happening. Administrators just seem to get stuck on one particular issue, e.g. “Title IX” and “safety culture,” when pieces of the sky are falling around us. We can no longer use duct tape to fix things. One of President Johnsen’s strongest leadership qualities is that he will make decisions. He has a vision, he consults with multiple constituencies while not listening to whisperers, and he has bold plans. I appreciate the sense of forward movement that he has started, even when I may not agree with the details.

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Bonusgate

demo against the bonus squareThe University of Alaska is in fiscal crisis. Programs are being cut, jobs eliminated. Hiring freezes, tuition increases, cancelled classes, and massive student loan debt are the new normal. Staff are being downsized and can be furloughed as early as January. Faculty are asked to teach extra classes for no pay. Faculty who retire or quit are not being replaced or are replaced by adjuncts who earn poverty wages. Routine maintenance has been repeatedly deferred. Travel funding has been slashed. Entire departments are threatened with closure. University of Alaska Fairbanks faces a $12-16M deficit, and the other campuses are in similar dire straits.

What does the Board of Regents do? They give the UA President a $320K retention bonus.

If you think this is a bone-headed decision, please do something. Write a letter to the editor, blog about it, post on social media, tweet it, call your friends and family, call the University’s public relations office or alumni office. You are also invited to a demonstration on Friday, August 8, 4:00-6:00PM at the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ entrance on the corner of University and College. Bring signs, or make a sign using the materials graciously donated by a local labor union.

 

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