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Thursday, November 9, 2006
Bizarre Tale of the Day (The Academy and Murder Edition)
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 1:30 pm

Via the Huntsville Times: Professor at UAH arrested in death of his wife in May.

It sounds more like an episode of Law and Order or the plot of a movie of the week than it does something that would actually happen:

Police said Wednesday a Madison woman was murdered in May after she caught her husband, a physics professor, with a woman in his office at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

Filed under: Academia, Criminal Justice | Comments (0) |Send TrackBack
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
The Rebranding of a Blog
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 3:11 pm is currently semi-closed (there is currently only one post and I think that the archives are inaccessible) as Steve seeks to “rebrand” away from general punditry:

I’ve pretty much decided to rebrand by repositioning it as what it started out to be; namely, a niche blog focused on business law and economics.

It is an interesting move. I wonder how much of it is a response to the general malaise that is settling over politics these days and how much has something to do with blogging burnout and the intermixture between academics and blogging and how such a person wishes to present themselves to the general public.

While I still enjoy “punditry” (although I prefer to think of it a analysis and commentary) I have for some time felt less and less interested in partisan discussions, per se-something which I engaged in more in the earlier days of this blog. While I remain more than willing to engage in philosophically-based commentary, I find myself less and less “partisan”-indeed, I believe that blogging has made me less partisan (at least in my own mind) than I used to be, even though it initially made me, I think, more-so.

Some of this is, no doubt, a reflection of the various messes made by this administration and the current congressional leadership. However, I really do think that daily blogging has made me think more about a panoply of issues, insofar as I have had to deeply examine why I think what I think if I am going to be making arguments in public. Further, reading a great deal of rabidly partisan blogging (from both sides of the aisle) has enhanced my distaste for such approaches to politics. That distaste has extended to other media. For the longest time I was quite the consumer of political talk radio, but for almost two years I have found my interest in such to have radically waned. I mostly listen to sportstalk now.

Further, I would far prefer to be taken seriously as an analyst (even if one known to have certain philosophical predilections) than to attract an audience of red-meat devouring partisans. Part of that is simply my own intellectual temperament, and part it is my academic orientation.

I wonder how much of these issues play into Steve’s decision.

And to be clear: while there is plenty to be frustrated with in terms of the political at the moment, my perspective on these issues as outlined above have been present in my mind for over a year. See, for example, there older posts:

Those posts are mostly about the mean-spirited nature of overly-partisan blogging, but fit my evolving point of view on the issue of partisan lenses in general, and specifically as they apply to blogging.

Filed under: US Politics, Political Philosophy/ Theory, Blogging, Academia | Comments (8) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here

Outside The Beltway | OTB linked with Drowning in a Sea of Blogs
Friday, October 13, 2006
The Unintended Idiocy of No Child Left Behind
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 11:12 am

Via the NYT: Despite a Doctorate And Top Students, Unqualified to Teach

As virtually everyone in the audience knew, Mr. Huyck would be leaving Pacific Collegiate, a charter school, after commencement. Despite his doctorate in classics from Harvard, despite his 22 years teaching in high school and college, despite the classroom successes he had so demonstrably achieved with his Latin students in Santa Cruz, he was not considered “highly qualified” by California education officials under their interpretation of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Rather than submit to what he considered an expensive, time-consuming indignity, a teacher-certification program geared to beginners that would last two years and cost about $15,000, Mr. Huyck decided to resign and move across town to teach in a private school. And in his exasperation, he was not alone.

Two other teachers with doctorates left Pacific Collegiate this year at least in part because of the credentialing requirement, Mr. Goldenkranz said. (One of the departed teachers, Barbara Allen Logan, said she left largely out of concern that the school was not diverse enough.) Nine other faculty members who already hold doctoral degrees or are working toward them are taking the teacher-certification classes, stealing time away from their own students at Pacific Collegiate.

So, people who might be qualified to teach at the university level aren’t quailifed to teach in public high schools. That’s sheer genius, that is. (Indeed, come to think of it, despite my doctorate I would be considered unqualified to teach High School civics, but a coach who may have had all of 6 hours of political science is).

Perhaps the most glaring flaw in NCLB is that in an attempt to do a good thing, i.e., focus on adequate and appropriate teacher training, it failed to fully understand what that might mean. It especially failed in not providing some sort of grandfather clause that would have found a way to deal with persons with existing teaching experience.

And it isn’t just dramatic and cases of teachers with decades of experiences and doctorates, which some may dismiss as outside the norm. I have seen this process up close as my wife has sought to return to the classroom after staying at home with our boys. The combination of byzantine educratic rules in the state of Alabama and the provisions of No Child Left Behind has turned that quest into a radically confusing and frustrating odyssey that will ultimately take over a year to complete.

The NCLB provisions in particular create remarkable hurdles, especially when they have to be interpreted by overworked, under-trained bureaucrats.

While it appears (I say appears because the process is not yet done) that my wife’s situation will be settled with the passage of time and much paper, it was not always clear that this was the case.

At one point, however, we thought that she was going to have to go back to school to be able to teach again, despite holding a bachelor’s degree in psychology, having completed a state-certified teacher education program in California, holding a lifelong teaching certification from the state of Texas and having taught a combined seven years in California and Texas public schools.

And so we actively pursued the notion that she should go back to school to get a Master’s degree in early childhood education so as to guarantee that she would be “highly qualified”—however, we discovered that even such a master’s degree would be insufficient. She would still have to complete a year and a half of general studies courses at the undergraduate level. Such an option is quite frustrating (not to mention expensive in terms of dollars and time) for someone who has a BA plus an extra year of schooling and almost a decade of in-class experience. Luckily it ends up that she won’t have to go that route.

Other, however, aren’t so lucky:

Mr. Huyck had watched his wife, Sarah Whittier, also a faculty member at Pacific Collegiate, plod through a certification course. At the age of 53, after receiving a doctorate in English literature and winning a statewide award for excellence in teaching — both at the University of California, Santa Cruz — she was racing most afternoons straight from Pacific Collegiate to teacher-certification classes 90 minutes away in the Monterey area. There, seated among classmates in their early 20’s, some of them headed for positions in elementary school, she received lessons in such topics as writing a lesson plan and maintaining classroom order.

“To me, it’s a badge of shame,” she said of the teaching certification. “It’s an embarrassment. It’s infantilizing.”

Having witnessed his wife’s humiliation, Mr. Huyck decided to leave Pacific Collegiate rather than comply with California’s requirements under the federal law.

The fact that legislators and bureaucrats can’t see what they have created is simultaneousely not surprising and infuriating.

Filed under: US Politics, Academia | Comments (14) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
Thursday, September 28, 2006
Stupid College Students! (Or, Maybe not…)
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 9:08 am

Pete Du Pont in OpinionJournal is alarmed at what college students don’t know:

In the fall of 2005 ISI worked with the University of Connecticut’s Department of Public Policy to ask “more than 14,000 randomly selected college freshmen and seniors at 50 colleges and universities across the country”-an average of about 140 each of freshman and seniors on each campus-what they knew about America’s constitutional and governmental history and policies. The colleges ran from state institutions-the University of New Mexico and the University of California at Berkeley, for example, to Ivy League schools like Yale, Brown and Harvard, and less-well-known institutions like Grove City College and Appalachian State University.

Some colleges did better than others, but few of them added very much to students’ knowledge of America’s history or government. College freshmen averaged 51.7%, and the seniors averaged 53.2%, so there was a slight gain in knowledge. But the average senior scored only 58.5% on American history questions, slightly above 51% on government and America-and-the-world questions, and 50.5% on market economy questions. By every college’s grading system those are failing grades.

On the one hand, yes: those are poor scores. And yes, one would very much like citizens to have a high level of knowledge about US history and politics-especially if they are going to vote.

Speaking of voting, it strikes me that these rates aren’t all that different from voter turn-out rates (although granted voter turn-out rates measure all citizens, not just college grads). Still, my point is that there is some self-selection going on here.
A lot of people, even smart, educated ones, aren’t all that interested in history and politics.

But wait! you say: being a citizen is more than just about what one is interested in knowing. Well, yes and no. We are biological beings-indeed, that trumps us as political beings. Yet, we are generally quite ignorant about basic biology. It should be no surprise that a good number of people (even educated ones) are ignorant about basic politics.

Further, some of this stuff is, let’s be honest, trivia. While on one level it is ridiculous that students confuse (as many did in the survey) Yorktown with Gettysberg. However, does it really matter in terms of good citizenship, or really much of anything, if a large number of people don’t know the names of key historical battles?

I agree that our general political knowledge is pathetically anemic, but I am not sure it is the crisis that these kinds of columns and surveys make them out to be.

Not surprisingly, part of the issue has to do with the courses students take:

How did these educational failures come to pass? ISI concludes that “students don’t learn what colleges don’t teach.” In other words, in colleges where students must take more courses in American history they do better on the test, outperforming schools where fewer courses were completed. Seniors at the top test-scoring colleges “took an average of 4.2 history and political science courses, while seniors at the two lowest-ranked colleges . . . took an average of 2.9 history and political science courses.” Similarly, higher ranked colleges spent more time on homework, 20 hours a week at fourth-ranked Grove City College and 14 or 15 at low-ranked Georgetown and Berkeley.

It stands to reason that students who take more polisci and history will do better on a test like this than those who take less. However, that issue is harder to remedy than one might think. Schools with rigid general studies curricula already have them packed with any number of subjects, including math, science and comp/lit. To add more history and polisc would mean wresting precious semester hours from one class to add another. This is a difficult thing to do-as curriculum planning is a zero-sum game.

Would I, as a political scientist, like to see students take more polisci classes? Yes, I would. But, so, too, would the math faculty like students to take more math, the English faculty more lit and comp, the science faculty more science and so forth. And each faculty has a legitimate reason for thinking that citizens need to understand their respective fields. However, time is finite (as are the interests and skills of students).

Further, there are self-selection issues here. Some schools have fairly loose general studies requirements, meaning students can choose from a wide array of courses. Even those which have fairly rigid requirements likely allow students to make some choices, like whether to take US history or world history.

In regards to homework, while certainly the work assigned by professors is part of the issue, the main issue there is the motivation of the students.

I would also question the validity of “time spent on homework” as a metric here, as it stands to reason that brighter students (like those admitted to schools like Georgetown and Berkeley) might make more efficient usages of their time than those at other schools-at least in the aggregate. In other words, there is a serious quality/quantity problem here. I have students who clearly need less study time than others. I would also note that focusings on homework hours strikes me as K-12 type of measure.

Filed under: US Politics, Academia | Comments (2) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here

Outside The Beltway | OTB linked with Don’t Know Much About History
Thursday, September 21, 2006
A Disturbing Comparison
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 2:21 pm

I teach a graduate seminar called “Theory and Ideology in International Relations” and one of the things I have the students do is review two books for presentation to the class. One is supposed to be from a commentator/pundit/ideologue and the other from a practitioner/academic. The idea is to provide an opportunity for the students to examine and discuss the ways in which ideology and theoretical assumptions made by authors affect their analyses.

One of my students chose for their commentator book Pat Buchanan’s State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America. The book, about which I have commented before, contains the following passage:

America faces an existential crisis. If we do not get control of our borders, by 2050 Americans of European descent will be a minority in the nation their ancestors created and built. No nation has ever undergone so radical a demographic transformation and survived.


In 1994, Sam Francis, the syndicated columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times…volunteered this thought:

The civilization that we as whites created in Europe and America could not have developed apart from the genetic endowments of the creating people, nor is there any reason to believe that the civilization can be successfully transmitted by a different people.”

Had Francis said this of Chinese civilization and the Chinese people, it would have gone unnoted. But he was suggesting Western civilization was superior and that only Europeans could have created it. If Western peoples perish, as they are doing today, Francis was implying, we must expect our civilization to die with us.

There was also a passage, noted by the the student in question, as to how the US was edging closer to becoming “a Third World” nation because 24% of the population was going to be of Hispanic origin by the middle of the century. In short: “white” = “American” and “Western Civilization” and “Hispanic” = “Third World” according to Pat Buchanan.

So, keeping that in mind, the story continues.

Now, it ends up that yesterday we were also examining fascism and National Socialism in the context of national ideologies. And we were looking at some passages from Hitler’s Mein Kampf which includes the following gems:

Everything we admire on this earth today - science and art, technology and inventions - is only the creative product of a few peoples and originally perhaps of one race. On them depends the existence of this whole culture. If they perish, the beauty of this earth will sink into the grave with them.


All great cultures of the past perished only because the originally creative race died out from blood poisoning.

The ultimate cause of such a decline was their forgetting that all culture depends on men and not conversely; hence that to preserve a certain culture the man who creates it must be preserved.


If we were to divide mankind into three groups, the founders of culture, the bearers of culture, the destroyers of culture, only the Aryan could be considered as the representative of the first group. From him originate the foundations and walls of all human creation, and only the outward form and color are determined by the changing traits of character of the various peoples. He provides the mightiest building stones and plans for all human progress and only the execution corresponds to the nature of the varying men and races.

In short: culture and achievement come from the type of person (i.e., race) in question.

As we were discussing the text, the similarity with Buchanan’s argument was quite striking and disturbing. It isn’t that I hadn’t considered Buchanan to be on the reactionary side of things, or that I had failed to notice that he brushes uncomfortably close to anti-semitism (among other things). However, it is difficult to look at his comments on culture, race and immigration and not see someone who deserves to be considered as having, for lack of a better term, neonazi leanings. I don’t know what else to call it.

And, I would note, that Godwin’s Law doesn’t obtain when the person you are speaking about can legitimately be compared to Hitler.

The disturbing part, ultimately is that while his voice isn’t what it once was, Buchanan still maintains a great deal of influence in some segments of US politics.

Filed under: US Politics, Political Philosophy/ Theory, Academia | Comments (4) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here

Fruits and Votes linked with This just in: Pat Buchanan and George Allen are racists...
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Line of the Day (Academic Conferences Version)
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 4:12 pm

“…the calendar of conferences does not always clear one’s mind, I am compelled to reproduce these thoughts in a state of confusion.”-Adam Przeworski.

No joke.  That should be the standard disclaimer on all conference papers…

Filed under: Academia | Comments (0) |Send TrackBack
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Two dead, 19 hurt in Canada college shooting
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 6:52 pm

Via Reuters: Two dead, 19 hurt in Canada college shooting

A cold-faced gunman dressed in a black trenchcoat opened fire in a downtown Montreal college on Wednesday, killing a 20-year-old woman and leaving a trail of blood and injury as he sent students fleeing for their lives before being shot himself.


Robert Soroka, a professor at Dawson College, said he heard the shots from his fourth floor office.

“This could have been a very bad situation, if it had happened five minutes later when the students would have been exiting their classrooms during the changeover,” he said.


Filed under: Academia, Criminal Justice | Comments (5) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
Sunday, September 10, 2006
On Cancelling Class
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 12:42 pm

(To my students who read this blog: no, this isn’t a notice that I am cancelling class).

James Joyner notes a conversation that started at ProfsBlawg by Law Prof Bobby Chensney who asked on his site:

Here’s a question for the students out there: does it bother you when a professor cancels a class in order to attend a conference or workshop?


And so the question arises: Do you view this practice as beneficial? Problematic? Or perhaps just a minor cost imposed by the fact that your professors are, at the end of the day, both teachers and scholars?

Yale law student Will Braude responds on his blog (with a post entitled “Teaching Law and the Sacred Trust”):

So I think a very strong presumption against sacrificing class even further to one’s other professional ambitions is at the very least an ideal. I would like to hope that is not too much to ask for.

I can’t disagree that one oughtn’t cancel class lightly;however, I think the presumption that attending conferences and such is simply about furthering professional ambitions misunderstands the enterprise.

He also notes that Felix Frankfurter didn’t cancel class and missed part of his confirmation hearings for SCOTUS. As such, one guesses between the “sacred trust” comment and the Frankfurter example that Braude doesn’t think that normal conference attendance is a worthwhile reason to cancel class. One wonders: if cancelling class to attend one’s Supreme Court nomination hearings isn’t a good reason to cancel class, what is?

Although commenter (at ProfsBlawg) Mark probably captures the most common response from students on this topic:

As a 3L, I am in favor of class being cancelled at any time, for any reason.

I think that Law Prof Jonathan Weinberg gets it right in a comment at when he states:

…I don’t think that the conflict is between teaching classes (doing my job) and attending conferences (self-centeredly blowing off my job). Attending conferences (either to present papers, or just to learn stuff that feeds into my teaching or writing) is my job, just as teaching is. Being a member of a scholarly community — including the part of that community that isn’t in Detroit — is a big part of what the university pays me to do.

College professor should be teacher-scholars, not just teachers and not just scholars. It is the case that the least prestigious the institution, and the greater the teaching load, the more the professor is a teacher and the more prestigious the institution the more the professor can be a scholar. It’s all about time, resources and expectations.

There is a problem, however, when the professor becomes a mere teacher and a problem obtains when they become scholars for whom teaching is a side activity at best, or at worst, an irritant.

Conference attendance normally takes place in the context of a professor presenting their own work. As such it isn’t just (or primarily) attending panels. Of course, the attending of panels has its own utility, as it is a form of professional education. It is a way to hear new information about one’s field—which can sometimes (and indeed has) led to use in the classroom.

I would note that had I not attended conferences over the last several years I would not have been asked to write a chapter for this book and nor would have a book contract or several other academic opportunities. There is no way that my students would be better served if I were cloistered in Troy all the time.

Further, conference attendance can have the following effect, as noted by James:

attending conferences is a vital way of recharging one’s intellectual batteries and reconnecting with scholarship in one’s field.

Ultimately I think my students are better served by my having me engaged in those activities than had I not cancelled the occasional class.

Given that almost all conferences take place during the academic year, it is impossible to attend them if one doesn’t sometimes cancel class.

Of course, if one cancels class multiple terms per semester, then that’s a serious problem.

Filed under: Academia | Comments (13) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
Thursday, September 7, 2006
Yeah, Like That Would Actually Happen…
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 10:19 am
Filed under: Academia | Comments (0) |Send TrackBack
Saturday, September 2, 2006
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 2:29 pm

Ok, so I was curious as to whether Texas’ new starting QB’s first name was, indeed “Colt” or whether it was a nickname. In consulting his bio page at the UT sports and I find that it is his middle name (full name: Daniel Colt McCoy).

Well, then I note his birthday: 9/5/1986, which was over three months after I graduated from High School.

Just a reminder that pretty soon all of students will have been born while I was an undergradute myself.

Filed under: Sports, Academia, College Football | Comments (0) |Send TrackBack
Friday, September 1, 2006
Losing Face
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 11:20 am

Scott Nokes holds me up for public ridicule.

Oh, the horror!

Filed under: Computer Junk, Academia | Comments (0) |Send TrackBack
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
When Geeks Get Ph.D.s (or is that a redundancy?)
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 3:26 pm

And no, this is not an autobiographical post…

Via the The Age: Star Trek’s a thesis

It’s the PhD thesis that boldly goes where no thesis has gone before. Djoymi Baker watched 700 episodes - 624 hours without ads - of Star Trek and its spin-offs, dating from 1966 to 2005, in the name of research.


It may sound like torture for those with an aversion to William Shatner’s campy theatrics but, six years and 90,000 words on, it has earned Dr Baker a coveted chancellor’s prize for excellence at Melbourne University. And the respect of academics and Trekkies alike.Wow

-and I had to move to another continent to do my dissertation research.  Clearly, I picked the wrong field…

h/t:  Reader Ratoe via e-mail

Filed under: Academia, Trek | Comments (5) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here

Dating linked with Dating
Pros and Cons » My High School Genius linked with [...] The Sultan over at Poliblog posted yesterday about a PhD candidate who did his thesis on Star Trek. 624 hours of episodes. [...]
Friday, August 25, 2006
A Revolting Development over Pluto
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 6:29 am

Via the BBC: Pluto vote ‘hijacked’ in revolt

A fierce backlash has begun against the decision by astronomers to strip Pluto of its status as a planet. On Thursday, experts approved a definition of a planet that demoted Pluto to a lesser category of object.

But the lead scientist on Nasa’s robotic mission to Pluto has lambasted the ruling, calling it “embarrassing”.

And the chair of the committee set up to oversee agreement on a definition implied that the vote had effectively been “hijacked”.

As a political scientist, I find all this open, public argument over the status of Pluto to be somewhat amusing, given that the hard sciences usually like to preen about their concise usage of language and the fact that they have empirically superior categories of classification.

The truth of the matter is: smart people like to argue about what words mean, and scientists of all stripes love to categorize things. Indeed, they often treat the definition and categorization of items with a zeal that borders on the religious at times.

Filed under: Academia, Space | Comments (3) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here

Blog @ » Blog Archive » While You’re Waiting….. linked with [...] A Revolting Development over Pluto [...]
Thursday, August 24, 2006
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 11:25 am

Filed under: Academia | Comments (2) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
What Your Freshmen Don’t Know
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 9:53 pm

Here’s this year’s What Your Freshmen Don’t Know and the ones that especially struck me:

1. The Soviet Union has never existed and therefore is about as scary as the student union.

6. There has always been only one Germany.

12. Smoking has never been permitted on U.S. airlines.

15. They have never had to distinguish between the St. Louis Cardinals baseball and football teams.

23. Bar codes have always been on everything, from library cards and snail mail to retail items.

24. Madden has always been a game, not a Super Bowl-winning coach.

34. They have always known that “In the criminal justice system the people have been represented by two separate yet equally important groups.”

41. They have always been able to watch wars and revolutions live on television.

47. Small white holiday lights have always been in style.

56. They have never put their money in a “Savings & Loan.”

60. They never saw Bernard Shaw on CNN.

63. Television stations have never concluded the broadcast day with the national anthem.

75. Professional athletes have always competed in the Olympics.

Filed under: Pop Culture, Academia | Comments (0) |Send TrackBack
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