Sunday, August 31, 2008

Ruminations on reviewing

Okay, I was just reading Crazy's post about being a reviewer for a journal, the sad responsibility of giving a negative review, and how impersonal the feedback process seems to be. I can really relate to her comments. I serve as a reviewer for three journals, and I wrestle with some of the same problems.

Some of that issues Crazy raises relate to the rules of double-blind reviewing. If I don't know who is writing the piece, I have to say, "The author needs to flesh out these ideas..." "The author(s) should clarify their methodology." Etc. And then I send my comments into the abyss, where someone hopefully reads them, curses me, and revises and resubmits. (One could argue this is not a problem if the author is dead, but let's assume we agree the author is a living, breathing person or persons who would like to get their damn article published.)

I have some ideas for improvement of the process:

1.a. Have authors pick a pseudonym. Not like Jake or Allyson or something more androgynous like Pat, but something that gives a little insight into their soul. Something more like blogger names: Dying in Midwest Small Town, Partygrrrl, or even Fishface. It really would be more fun to respond to Fishface's theory of social change than "the Author's". It would also help us determine articles with more than one author, helping the reviewer ditch the unfortunate use of "author(s)".

1.b. Perhaps have reviewers pick pseudonyms, too. Or the author could assign us names. Instead of being "Reviewer 1," I could become "APA freak" who seems more obsessed with comma placement than the content of the article. (Not that I would EVER do that.)

I always assign my reviewers names--I seem to think I can determine their age and gender, based on their comments. I had "grumpy old white guy" and "suspicious black woman" on one of my articles on race; GOWG felt that it was inappropriate to use race as an analytic lens on any social process (seriously), whereas SBW couldn't believe that some white people really thought (or were taught) that all blacks supported integration and the only whites supporting integration were Northern ("Mississippi Burning," anyone??).

2. Send author comments back to the reviewers. It is a drag for a reviewer to write detailed comments and never have a chance to hear back from the author(s). It would be okay to have someone tell me that I missed something on page 2 that answered my question about page 5, or that my suggested literature actually helped them expand their lit review and their conceptualization. I would even be okay for someone to tell me they thought I missed the point altogether. I am no definitive expert; I just bring my experience, knowledge and perspective, which are altogether too fallible. Instead, I am judge and jury with my blindfold and earplugs in place, making a ruling that I never hear.

3. Notify reviewers when an article is (a) accepted and (b) published. I did the work of reviewing; let me know what the final product looks like!

4. Encourage authors to thank their reviewers--even the ones they hated. I just saw an article I reviewed published, and it was stronger because of my recommended changes. They didn't thank the outside readers, which was kind of a bummer.

Also, I always wanted to add a note in my book that thanked the one elitist woman who recommended against publishing the book because my co-author and I didn't work at one of the premiere schools. (I was at an R1 at the time, but apparently it wasn't an R1 that impressed her.) My note would have said, "To the outside reader who dissed our schools: Thanks for inspiring me to move on to bigger and better programs. I hope to be your boss someday."

5. Let reviewers cycle off every few years. I get tired of reviewing articles. I have learned that if you have a fast turnaround time on reviewing, they send you MORE. You actually are punished for being quick and consciencious. (Of course, this is true in every aspect of academe; if you can keep up with details, you get elected chair of committees. If you can get grant money, they want you to get more. If you can relate well to students, go do advising, serve as advisor to the student group, and handle all the problem students.) Yet, I would argue that this doesn't bode well for scholars in the long run. Instead of encouraging reviewers to slack off, I encourage journals to cycle scholars off their lists of reviewers regularly. Give someone new a chance, and let some of us old-timers get a break. I find I am nicer and more conscientious when I have had a few months between articles.

As with the other advice, I really am serious about the pseudonyms. If you ever get a review signed by "Harried and Hurried," just know that I am still trying to do right by you, despite the pressures of my current administrative, teaching, research, and service roles. And be sure to write me back and let me know if the feedback was helpful.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The American President (*to be)

Well, Obama is going for it. He is taking on McCain and the Republican Party. And I think the crowd is digging it, as am I.

But am I the only one who keeps thinking I might hear "My name is Andrew Shepard, and I AM the President."

Monday, August 25, 2008

A great day for a Monday

Well, I talked to a friend IRL today who regularly reads the blog, and she told me to post on my happy news! So, here it is...

I was pleased to find out this afternoon that I received a university teaching award! I knew it was a possibility, but it was a wonderful surprise to find out that I had been selected.

The award is competitive and comes with a cash prize, so it is a great big deal!

And, to make everything even nicer, the gf surprised me and showed up with flowers at my office when I got out of class.

As one of my students pointed out, none of my Mondays for the rest of the academic year will measure up to this one, I am sure. But I enjoyed the hell out of today. :-)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Meme-ing again, naturally.

As seen at New Kid's and Dr. Crazy's.

1. My uncle had a green thumb, but lived in a small urban duplex with little chance to use it.

2. Never in my life would I own a ferret. My brother had one, and they smelled really bad. Yuck.

3. When I was five, I broke my wrist falling from (wait for it) a swing in my backyard. I did, however, score a perfect 100% on my math test with my other hand, which made me want to take all math quizzes with my other hand.

4. High school was one of my best times, with lots of friends and good experiences.

5. I will never forget kissing my gf for the first time. She made my knees weak...literally.

6. Once I met Urvashi Vaid. She was incredibly friendly, smart, and warm. I left very impressed.

7. There’s this boy I know who wrote a book that is being made into a movie.

8. Once, at a bar, I got hit on by a waitress. I was so young, however, that I didn't know that what she said was a come-on. A friend had to tell me.

9. By noon during the week, I am usually in my office. On the weekends, I could still be unshowered and watching TV.

10. Last night I was happy that the gf and I were both home, with no outside plans and no damn orientation events!

11. If only I could find a band to sing in or a musical to audition for, I would be very excited to give up some free time to sing in public again.

12. Next time I go to church is pretty hard to predict. As a Jew, I have no real plans to go, but sometimes we go to church to hear a friend preach or sing.

13. What worries me most is whether my visit with my family will be fun and relaxed or...something else.

14. When I turn my head left I see the beautiful fireplace that sold me on the house.

15. When I turn my head right I see the stairs that make the gf wish we had never bought the house.

16. You know I’m lying pretty much whenever I'm lying. I'm a shitty liar. (I stole that whole line from Crazy, but it fits for me. My gf teases me when I try to lie.)

17. What I miss most about the Eighties is my cool, highlighted, permed, big hair. :-)

18. If I were a character in Shakespeare I’d be Kate in Taming of the Shrew. Or I would be Puck, from A Midsummer Night's Dream.

19. By this time next year I have no idea where I will be. I may apply for a new job, or I may stay here.

20. A better name for me would be Ms. Bossy Britches.

21. I have a hard time understanding people who own birds. Ick.

22. If I ever go back to school, I would learn Spanish or get a law degree.

23. You know I like you if I hug you. I am not a casual hugger and I don't really like people in my space. So, if I feel the need to hug you, you are definitely one of my peeps.

24. If I ever won an award, the first person I would thank would be the gf.

25. Take my advice, don't talk to people about your latest weight loss plan and/or diet. It is tiresome. Seriously.

26. My ideal breakfast is different on different days. If I have to work, I just want a little something like half a bagel. If it is a weekend or I am on vacation, I want an omelette and fresh fruit.

27. A song I love but do not have is the Soundtrack from "Hairspray." You can't stop the beat.

28. If you visit my hometown, go for the cheesesteak. Seriously, it rocks da muthafuckin house!

29. Why won’t people stop voting against their self-interest and vote Democrat instead???

30. If you spend a night at my house you may hear us talking, and we may hear you. We found that the vents conduct sound too easily from room to room and floor to floor.

31. I’d stop my wedding if I were marrying the wrong person. Luckily, I am domestically partnered with the right girl, and if I marry her, there would be no reason to stop.

32. The world could do without handguns.

33. I’d rather lick the belly of a cockroach than ... WTF???!! That is nasty. I wouldn't even want to do that in a dream.

34. My favorite blondie is the gf, though there is some argument about her status as a blonde. (Age has washed it out a little...)

35. Paper clips are more useful than my allergy medicine seems to be. What's up with that?

36. If I do anything well it's singing.

37. I can’t help but feel pissed when people don't do what they say they will, or when they try to tell me what to do and how to do it.

38. I usually cry at sad movies.

39. My advice to my nephew/niece is remember to be your own person.

40. And by the way, go Obama!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Ah, the student woes...

I always know that the beginning of a semester is a busy time for administrators, and this year is no different. I plan my days with a lot of open spaces--in between all of the orientations, the welcome back events, and syllabus photocopying--in resigned recognition that they will quickly fill with what I will euphamistically call "student problems."

I call them that, but they quickly become faculty and staff problems.

Take, for example, the student who chastises a staff member who cannot help her as quickly as she would like, telling her, "Well, it's your job!" Or the new student who shows up for the first day of school, having ignored all emails and letters from the campus inviting him to attend orientation and registration events during the summer, and plaintively asks what to do now that all courses are closed. Add to this another student whose grades last semester were pretty far below the required minimum, who needs to get some supports for the new semester. Then there are the raft of seniors who "really, really need this class/section in order to graduate" but who find the classes/sections closed.

Each and all of these students require my time, sternness and/or kindness, and calm patience. I try to balance supportiveness with the need for a reality check for many of these students. It isn't always easy, but it gets better each year as I learn to expect the unexpected. My schedule has filled up every day this week--sometimes as late as 9pm. I eye the data I collected that needs to get analyzed and the articles and reports that need to be written and sigh audibly. But this, too, shall pass. The students will get enrolled, get socialized into how to deal appropriately with staff, and get into their classes, and eventually the semester will really get rolling. I am hopeful it will be soon.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Happy happy, joy joy!

Tomorrow, I will be enjoying the sun and the surf.

For a week.

Life is good.

Really good.

Enjoy what is left of the summer.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

I might be a bad feminist because...

... I hire someone to clean my own house, and I don't feel bad about it. I pay a good sum to an independent businesswoman who hires other women who are paid pretty well.

... I let men do things for me that I don't want to or haven't learned how to do. I know how to mow the lawn and weed, but I HATE those tasks, so I hire men to do it. I never learned to change my oil, spark plugs, etc., and I don't want to learn now. I would gladly hire a woman for these tasks, but don't haven't found a female gardener or mechanic in my town. (I do try to use women medical professionals, though.) I can hook up a washer and dryer and set up my computer, so I figure I am capable enough.

...I hold men who have sex with underage girls more accountable for the sex than the girls themselves. I have this belief that the adult is more responsible than the young adult. I do believe young women can be sexual and can make their own decisions, but they lack some ability to think critically that their adult boyfriends should have. I also hold those in positions of power and responsibility (professors?) responsible for violating boundaries with less structural power (students)--no matter how adult the person with less power may be. Yes, grad students may all be fine with their affairs with their professors--I just don't believe it is a good idea, as long as there is a power differential. If you take the power out of it--step off the committee, don't teach the classes the student takes, etc.--I can be okay with it.

...I voted without reservation for Obama and was not at all upset about Hillary losing. In fact, by the time Obama got the nomination, I was sick to death of Hillary and Bill. I also wanted to (metaphorically) jackslap Geraldine Ferraro and Gloria Steinem regarding their statements about sexism and racism in the US. And those women who said they would vote for McCain instead of Obama out of protest made me want to SCREAM!

...I like the Daily Show with Jon Stuart, even though his show's writers are almost all white, straight men. (I am happy to note how Jewish and Northeastern the staff is--a little hometown pride. :-)) I don't much like most of the stuff the women do on that show... I wish they had someone like Wanda Sykes on the show, rather than Samantha Bee or that other strange young white woman who does "young ditzy girl" stuff. That said, I still dig it.

...My favorite writer is a man. James Baldwin. I like his fiction and his essays. This admission is even more problematic because Baldwin has some gender problems, in his rejection of the feminine in men and his failure to understand and embrace the complexity of women. That said, he is my favorite writer of all time. His work speaks to me.

I have toyed with adopting the moniker "womanist," but it feels a little tricky to do that as a white woman. (I almost wrote white girl, but as I am now in "middle age," I have to accept myself as a white woman. Sigh.) And I would certainly be okay with calling myself a lesbian feminist as well, though I would not do well on that quiz--never having attended a women's music festival, joined a lesbian-only group, or been a lacto-ovo vegan.

Still, I will adamantly claim my feminist credentials. I am outspoken, strong-natured, independent and interdependent, and committed to the rights of women and others who face oppression and discrimination. I work in my job and my life helping students think critically about the world around us, and I work alongside them for change.

So, I am a feminist...good, bad, or somewhere in between.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Academics under surveillance

Well, this week has certainly been disgusting in terms of educational news. The National Association of Scholars have undertaken a new stalking initiative. It isn't enough that they publicize tales of (as they say) political correctness gone awry, now they are recruiting people to spy and report on their own schools. Be wary of who comes to see your class.

That peer evaluation you need? Consider which colleague you trust.

Those students from outside your major who "really need your class"? Careful, they might be coming to spy on your teaching style.

I really cannot stand these people. The NAS says on their website that they are "non-ideological and politically centrist." I worked with several members of NAS in one of my previous schools, and I can assure everyone that neither of these claims is true: they have a distinct perspective that doesn't support (and sometimes actively opposes) people like me (lesbian, feminist, anti-racist academics).
The NAS folks act like they come from some politically pure place of traditionalism and objectivity, when in truth they embody a censoring, conservative perspective. I know that their numbers are few, and their influence is very small, but they cast a shadow long enough to intimidate and rile people, and they have a deleterious effect on universities.

On their website (I refuse to add the link, because I hate to pimp for them), they argue that they only plan to use publicly available sources, though in the article at IHE, they never say that clearly. Instead, they say only that their campus-based sources should ask permission to sit in a colleague's class, following what they consider appropriate spying etiquette.

Speaking of spying, IHE also had the story of an undercover police officer who spied on anti-war and anti-death penalty groups in Maryland three years ago. Using a young, inexperienced officer, the Maryland State Police infiltrated these community groups looking to "protect homeland security." Instead, they spied on citizens using legal and appropriate means to advocate for change. Several faculty members were among those citizens whose information is included in the notes released as part of the ACLU lawsuit.

So now, the moral of these stories seems to be: no politics in the classroom, no politics in our personal lives. Who do these people think they are, to dictate how we teach our classes or live our lives? Since when can't instructors teach their students how to think critically about political issues, or provide them with information about activism and methods for pursuing democracy? Since when can't private citizens organize to lobby, peacefully protest, and educate our communities about issues we think important?

I believe it is my right--and perhaps even my responsibility--to discuss political issues in the (social science) classroom, to teach advocacy skills (a required area of study in my field), and to engage students about issues of culture and conscience. I believe that we are training citizens of tomorrow; in fact, teaching advocacy is no different than encouraging community service and global awareness. I do not teach them which "sides" to be on, which positions they have to take, or which causes they should pursue. I simply teach the skills to advocate on their issues. And I certainly retain my democratic right to advocate on behalf of causes that matter to me when I am on my own time. I support democracy, justice, and quality higher education--in and outside of the classroom.