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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Busted: How Your Professor Caught You Plagiarizing


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.

You can even purchase services that will hack your plagiarized work so that TurnItIn and SafeAssign do not work, e.g. 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:

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Lady Athletes


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:


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.


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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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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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Title IX Profiteers

ImageUpdated 7-26-14

Capitalism is like water. Just as water will always seek the tiniest nooks and crannies in which to seep, capitalists seek niches in which to earn profit. As anti-rape activists have seized on Title IX as a tool to dismantle college rape culture and to bring about safe and equitable campuses, some enterprising companies have discovered that helping universities resist change is profitable. I call them the Title IX profiteers.

The National Center for Higher Education Risk Management (NCHERM, is one of the Title IX profiteers. NCHERM is an umbrella law and consulting firm that has eight subsidiaries, several of which specialize in Title IX issues. Part of the new “risk management” industry targeting higher education, NCHERM and its subsidiaries have nearly single-handedly rewritten Title IX policies and procedures at universities through its expensive Title IX administrator training programs, policy-writing curricula, consultation services, and legal representation. They trained the new Title IX professionals into thinking about Title IX not as an issue of equity, as Title IX was designed to do, but as a risk to be managed. Through online workshops, on-site workshops, centralized workshops, and through individual consultation services and legal representation, NCHERM has revised the Title IX policies and practices of an untold number of schools and trained hundreds of administrators into thinking about Title IX the “NCHERM way.”

But the “NCHERM way” does not protect women or men from gender inequities, nor does it protect students from rape and sexual harassment as Title IX requires. In fact, the “NCHERM way,” as practiced at many schools, re-traumatizes victim-survivors and advocates who report sexual misconduct. And students and their advocates are resisting. Over the last several months, a virtual tidal wave of formal complaints have been filed against schools with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR). In late May, 2014, OCR announced that it is investigating 61 colleges and universities for possible Title IX violations based on sexual assault and harassment. (They have released a separate list of schools and colleges that are being investigated for other possible Title IX violations, e.g. discriminatory athletics programs.) Although schools may minimize the pending investigation to claim that the investigation is merely “a compliance review,” as is the case at my university, correspondence from the Office of Civil Rights documents that the feds are investigating specific cases.

Of the 61 schools who are being investigated by OCR, 37 of them are NCHERM clients. That’s 60.6%, folks.

U of Alaska NCHERM Expenditures UA FY09-14 Sheet1_Page_1 U of Alaska NCHERM Expenditures UA FY09-14 Sheet1_Page_2These facts make a rational person wonder why the 61 schools are throwing good money after bad. Presumably, if these schools hired NCHERM in the first place, then they followed NCHERM’s advice. They paid NCHERM to train their Title IX investigators the NCHERM way. Their Title IX coordinators joined ATIXA, one of the 8 subsidiaries, and attended Title IX how-to workshops. They paid NCHERM for model website text. They paid NCHERM to rewrite their Title IX policies the NCHERM way. They paid NCHERM to learn how to follow NCHERM’s “OCR-proof-your-school” practices. And yet they still got zinged by OCR. And now many of them are paying NCHERM to represent them in the OCR investigation.

Is this not profiteering? And at whose expense? Who is carrying the costs to put profit into the hands of NCHERM and other higher education risk management consultants? And here I’m not just talking about costs in terms of money, but the costs to students and to the well-being of our university communities.

Below is a list of schools who are documented as being under OCR investigation as of 5-28-14 who are also listed on the NCHERM website as active clients. Note that my school, the University of Alaska System, is listed. Also below is an email from a staff member at OCR that accompanied a list of all 61 schools that are being investigated.

New as of July 26, 20-14: Located in the text above is the document received from the University of Alaska System that lists how much NCHERM and its subsidiaries have been paid by UA. I posted this as a response to NCHERM’s comment on this blog (and on their own that inaccurately claims that NCHERM was hired only after UA was put on the OCR list for investigation. Clearly, the University’s data documents that this claim is incorrect.

Thanks to for the cool Title IX graphic.




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End Gendered Violence: We Won’t Wait for Judgment Day


The murder ballad, Pretty Polly, as imagined by Thomas Hart Benton.

The Juneau Empire is running a story today about the trial of Robert D. Kowalski. In 1996, Kowalski shot his girlfriend, Sandra M. Perry, to death, but because he maintained that her death was accidental, he was not charged. At the time, he claimed he was aiming at a bear outside the window of their room in Yakutat, and accidentally shot her instead. Then, in 2008, he shot his next girlfriend, Lorraine Kay Morin, to death, this time in Montana, but again claimed that his act was unintentional. Even so, the similarities between the two deaths caused Alaska prosecutors recently to reopen the 1996 case. They are trying him now, and the case may go to the jury today while I’m in Juneau.

Several incidents connected with the case are troubling to this sociologist: 1) Alaska State Troopers destroyed the evidence from the 1996 case in 1998, so jurors have been instructed to consider that fact as ‘favorable’ to Kowalski; 2) today’s news report focuses unduly on the fact that the first murder victim had been taking amphetamines and drinking alcohol; 3) the couple had argued before Kowalski murdered the first girlfriend; 4) the couple had been arguing before Kowalski killed the second girlfriend; 5) news accounts frame both murders as incidents involving “domestic disputes.”

Now, REALLY, folks! There is some sociological analysis necessary here.

1) Why did the troopers destroy evidence for a case that was essentially unresolved (no charges), only two years afterwards? Is storage space so limited in Alaska, the largest state in the union, that they had to clear out space for other crime scene evidence? Was the evidence destroyed because femicide is so ordinary and routine in Alaska (highest rate of gendered violence in the US) that some trooper evidence person just shrugged and said, oh well, just one less box of stuff we need to keep? And why was the jury then instructed to consider the destroyed evidence, meaning lack of evidence, as ‘favorable’ to Kowalski? At a previous hearing, Kowalski’s defense attorney, apparently with no intentional irony, worried that allowing evidence at the new trial would be “unfairly prejudicial” to his client:

“It is not difficult at all to make a logical argument — forgetting the rules of evidence, forgetting hundreds of years of jurisprudence — to make a logical argument that we would all make in our daily lives, that is: ‘Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.’ That’s not hard argument to make,” Hedland said in court. “But that, your Honor, is exactly why it’s so prejudicial. Because that’s such a knee-jerk thing. Because it’s so easy to get there. Because it’s so easy to go to, ‘This guy’s just a killer.’ It’s just the danger of unfair prejudice is that much more exponentially present.”

Well, yes, Mr. Defense Attorney Hedland, it does look like this guy is just a killer. Note that one of his ex-wives is the one who ratted on him and called the prosecutor’s attention to the first murder. All of us present here want fair legal processes. Destroying evidence that is only two-years old is not an element of fair process. The Fiddling Sociologist calls for an investigation into why the Alaska State Troopers were allowed to destroy evidence, as well as why the fact that the evidence was destroyed must be viewed as ‘favorable’ to Kowalski by the jury.

2) Today’s news story summarizes the toxicology reports from the 1996 case. Apparently the troopers didn’t destroy that evidence. The news article is not as bad as some in using the “unworthy of victim status because she was high/drunk” trope that is often used to divert empathy away from female victims. But still… Why go into this at all?  A woman gets hepped up on amphetamines, gets drunk, and that becomes a justifiable reason to kill her? Perhaps in the argument she shouted at him, maybe called him names, and so okay, any man could be excused for killing the b*tch? Sociologist Danielle Dirks has thoroughly undone the alcohol/drugs killed/raped her with a great infogram that analyzes what causes rape. The summary of the infogram? 100% of rape is caused by rapists. Thus in the Kowalski murder cases, 100% of the murders were caused by the murderer.

3) and 4) The couple had been arguing. In most every incident involving gendered violence, mainstream media reports frame the victim’s behavior being half of the cause of her death. She was arguing with him, so yeah, of course he killed her. I have yet to see a news story frame a bank robbery in a parallel manner: “The bank was openly involved in money transactions at the time of the robbery.” Or a mugging: “At the time he was mugged, he was displaying the cash he had just gotten from an ATM.” (Thanks to Anne Munch for the mugging analogy.)

5) The phrase “domestic dispute” is a dangerous framing of gendered violence. A dispute more properly describes a mild disagreement over the terms of something. You and your neighbor could have a dispute over exactly where your shared property lines are located. A student and a professor may have a dispute over the student’s performance on an exam. Partners could have a dispute over which brand of paper towels to purchase for their home. None of these types of disputes rise to any level of seriousness. But add the word, “domestic” to the phrase, and dispute becomes dangerously gendered. And often, excusable because of how the practices of patriarchy have shaped our societies. In more than one Alaska newspaper (the Sun-Star and Fairbanks News-Miner are both guilty of this) the phrase “domestic dispute” is applied to cases of gendered violence even when the parties are not domestic partners at all, but simply have a history of dating.

The news reports about Kowalski’s crimes remind me of how much work feminism and other progressive social movements have left to do to solve the problem of gendered violence. I teach about gendered violence in most of my sociology classes. My SOC 100X students are especially knowledgeable about gendered violence as they watched the Anne Munch film, “Naming the Unnamed Conspirator” and also attended an excellent lecture by Danielle Dirks entitled, “Networked Survivors Fighting for Reform: The New Campus Anti-Rape Movement.” I have spoken at Take Back the Night rallies, marched in parades, lobbied legislators, and even protested at a Rolling Stones concert back in the 1970s (they were promoting their new album with billboards picturing a battered women saying, “I’m black and blue from the Rolling Stones and I love it!”) I’ve written op-eds for newspapers, worked as a victims’ advocate at a women’s shelter, designed brochures and flyers against rape, written grants for anti-gendered violence projects, and presented papers at sociology conferences. But I want to go deeper, do something else with my intellectual energy. My latest project, as some of you may know, is sociological songwriting. My hope for this project is to instill a verse or two into people’s ears so that they find themselves humming sociological insights while driving or in the shower.

Which brings me back to why I am reading the Juneau newspaper today. Janice Densham and I are performing at the Alaska Folk Festival this evening, and all but one of the songs are Anahita sociologically-infused originals. Our set is characterized as “murder ballads and love songs.” One of the songs is what I call an anti-Pretty Polly song. The Pretty Polly murder ballad tradition goes like this: A man and a woman are dating, talking about marriage, or are already married. They are just going along, when suddenly, he kills her. They are talking about their wedding day (Banks of the Ohio), going to get married (Omie Wise), simply taking a Sunday walk (Down in the Willow Garden), or going to have sex in the woods (Pretty Polly), when he suddenly turns on her and kills her. The details of the crime get pretty gory: he stabs her, drags her around by the hair, throttles her, slices off her head and kicks it against the wall, throws her in the river, shoots her, rolls her into a pre-dug grave, suffocates her with dirt, chops her up with a saber, and/or beats her with a club. The Pretty Polly characters are passive, and do little in the ballads to resist death. Polly does get down on her knees to beg Willie, her murderer, not to kill her, but to no avail. Sometimes the victim comes back to haunt the murderer, as in a 1920s version of Pretty Polly, but usually not. Many of the murders are ballad accounts of actual real murders from the 18th and 19th centuries, often folk processed to fit local circumstances. For example, there are Omie Wises (aka Naomi Wise) in the UK, NC, and WV ballad tradition.

The song Janice and I are doing is called “He Dreads Judgment Day.” The song’s narrator asks each victim why their murderer did the deed, and gives brief detail about the way they were killed. Several of the women noted are real murder victims, e.g. Sophie Sergie and Pam Mitchell Hoy. Each verse is followed by a chorus that asks “does he dread Judgment Day?” My intent in the song is to return some sense of agency, of non-passiveness to the victims. But by asking the victims why their murderers killed them, I mostly fail in this endeavor. Kayt Sunwood has helped to revive the women victims’ agency by writing a new ending chorus for the song. She transforms the narrator from being just another inquistor into a rousing Take Back the Night type of speaker and calls on all of us to end the violence. Her last lines: “Let’s end the violence. We can’t wait ’til Judgment Day. Let’s all stand together. We won’t wait until Judgment Day. No we WON’T wait ’til Judgment Day!”

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