Posts tagged ‘gender studies’

My Apology to Art Students

For years (as an engineer) when I made fun of college students not doing any work or not studying anything of actual utility, I often used art students as an example.  Today I offer my apology.

My daughter is an illustration major at a college called Art Center in Pasadena, CA.  I don't know if this is usual for art schools or if it is just this one college, but these kids do an insane amount of work.  My wife and I both attended Ivy League schools and my son went to Amherst, all of which are high on rankings of top academic stress schools, but none of us ever worked like the kids at Art Center.  My daughter coasted to A's in one year at Rice University, which she would describe as a cake walk compared to art school.   Her art school features five 5-hour classes a week plus each class can and does issue up to 9 hours of homework a week.  Typical weekly assignment for 1 course:  draw 300 hands.

In addition to all of this there are mid-terms and finals.  Below is one project my daughter did for one course's final exam, a set of children's books put together from scratch with her own art.  This strikes me as an insane amount of work.

I will add that I have become reconciled to art school in other ways.  To some extent my daughter's false start going to a major university in a liberal arts program was a result of our family's expectations about college.   Our bias was that a liberal arts degree from a highly-ranked university was the path to success.  Art school was for slackers who ended up sleeping on the street in a refrigerator box.  But you know what?  Art school teaches a real craft and teaches it rigorously.  Can Yale say that about its gender studies program?

One caveat to this is that my daughter can write.  She went to a high school where all the assignments and exams were essay-based.   She can toss off a polished 5-paragraph essay in her sleep.   If this were not the case, I would worry about this one aspect of art school.  I consider writing (and remember, this comes from a mechanical and aerospace engineer) to be the most important core skill and an education that does not teach writing or provide a lot of writing practice is suspect in my mind.

They Should Be Getting Degrees in Post-Modern Art Criticism Instead

Congress is cracking down on for-profit universities that market relatively fast degrees (< 2 years) in certain vocational programs like auto mechanics.  Apparently, Congress is concerned about "vocational programs in which a large share of students don't earn enough to pay back their loans."

So Congress is worried about students paying several thousand dollars and investing 18 months of their lives for a degree that may not repay their student debts.  No word yet on whether they are looking into students who spend four years and $160,000 for Ivy League gender studies degrees, which we all know have simply enormous income-generation potential.

I Called The Ward Churchill Verdict

On several occasions, I have (unpopularly) argued that Ward Churchill's firing from his tenured faculty position at the University of Colorado was unjustified, as the termination seemed to pretty clearly be due to his remarks about 9/11 rather than any academic mis-conduct.

While Colorado has tried to argue that they fired him because his academic work was weak, I have argued that it is no weaker than much of the work done by any number of high-profile racial and gender studies departments  (Duke University being just one recent example).  Racial and gender studies professors are generally evaluated based on their political activism, not their scholarship, so firing Churchill was both wrong on a first amendment basis and wrong because his statements on 9/11 were merely conforming to the standards of his chosen academic discipline.

A jury seems to agree:

A jury found on Thursday that the University of Colorado had wrongfully dismissed a professor who drew national attention for an essay in which he called some victims of the Sept. 11 attacks "little Eichmanns."...

The jurors found that Mr. Churchill's political views had been a "substantial or motivating" factor in his dismissal, and that the university had not shown that he would have been dismissed anyway.

If you don't believe me about activism trumping scholarship as a criteria for hiring racial and gender studies professors, just listen to Churchill's lawyer:

Mr. Lane, Mr. Churchill's lawyer, said his client had been a spokesman throughout his academic career for disempowered people and causes "” a trait, Mr. Lane said, that never made Mr. Churchill popular with people in power. "For 30 years, he's been telling the other side of the story," Mr. Lane said.

Missing are terms like study, research, investigation, etc -- this is activism, pure and simple.  And Colorado knew it and wanted it when they hired him, so it was wrong for them to fire him for it.

Choices Make a Difference

I have no problem if women want to spend four years at college studying (at their own expense) the role of indigenous women in the postmodernist Marxist movement of 1960's Paraguay, or whatever.  However, I do have a problem when these same folks later complain that their income is below average or they are under-represented in the board room.  Just peruse the top and bottom of this list at Carpe Diem

College degrees most dominated by women include library science, consumer science, social science, education, language, psychology, and gender studies.  Top college degrees most dominated by men include construction trades, engineering tech, transportation, military technologies, engineering and computer science. 

Sorry, but I cannot imagine any possible restructuring of society and the economy where the first list is more valuable and has higher income potential than the second list.

Some Thoughts on Peer Review

Some thoughts on the obsession with peer review as the gold standard guarantee of climate science goodness, from Climate Skeptic:

One of the weird aspects of climate science is the over-emphasis on peer
review as the ne plus ultra guarantor of believable results.  This is absurd. 
At best, peer review is a screen for whether a study is worthy of occupying
limited publication space, not for whether it is correct.  Peer review, again at
best, focuses on whether a study has some minimum level of rigor and coherence
and whether it offers up findings that are new or somehow advance the ball on an
important topic. 

In "big
boy sciences
" like physics, study findings are not considered vetted simply
because they are peer-reviewed.  They are vetted only after numerous other
scientists have been able to replicate the results, or have at least failed to
tear the original results down.  Often, this vetting process is undertaken by
people who may even be openly hostile to the original study group.  For some
reason, climate scientists cry foul when this occurs in their profession, but
mathematicians and physicists accept it, because they know that findings need to
be able to survive the scrutiny of enemies, not just of friends.  To this end,
an important part of peer review is to make sure the publication of the study
includes all the detail on methodology and data that others might need to
replicate the results  (which is something climate reviewers are particularly bad at).

In fact, there are good arguments to be made that strong peer review may even
be counter-productive to scientific advancement.  The reason is that peer
review, by the nature of human beings and the incentives they tend to have, is
often inherently conservative.  Studies that produce results the community
expects often receive only cursory scrutiny doled out by insiders chummy with
the authors.  Studies that show wildly unexpected results sometimes have trouble
getting published at all.

 As I read this, it strikes me that one way to describe
climate is that it acts like a social science, like sociology or gender studies,
rather than like a physical science.  I will ahve to think about this -- it
would be an interesting hypothesis to expand on in more depth.  Some quick
parallels of why I think it is more like a social science:

  • Bad statistical methodology  (a hallmark, unfortunately, of much of social
    science)
  • Emphasis on peer review over replication
  • Reliance on computer models rather than observation
  • Belief there is a "right" answer for society with subsequent bias to study
    results towards that answer  (example,
    and another
    example
    )

These Are Trained Professionals: Don't Try This In Your Own Home

Three Duke professors, two of whom were members of the infamous group of 88 who advocated a presumption of guilt for the lacrosse players in the Duke non-rape case, have written their own self-serving version of history in an "academic" magazine.  The funniest part is where they claim that only trained experts like themselves are qualified to discuss any subject once the race card has been played:

"the most extreme marginalization was reserved for the faculty
whose professional expertise made them most competent to engage the
discourses on race and gender unleashed by the inaugurating incident
"” scholars of African American and women's studies. Instead, administrators,
like the bloggers themselves, operated under the assumption that
everyone was an expert on matters of race and gender, while actually existing academic expertise was recast as either bias or a commitment to preconceived notions about the legal case.
Some
faculty thus found themselves in the unenviable position of being the
targets of public discourse (and disparaged for their expertise on race
and gender) without being legitimate participants in it."

Beyond the hilarity of such a claim on its face, how does such a self-serving discussion meet the editorial standards of any academic publication?  For though they claim to have "professional expertise,"  all they really accomplish is to reinforce my impression that the social sciences in general, and racial/gender studies departments in particular, have the lowest academic standards of any group on modern campuses.  KC Johnson goes on to sample some of the outright mistakes, outrageous (and unproven) claims, and general lack of sourcing and footnoting that would likely have gotten them laughed out of most any university department with actual standards.  As I wrote about the Ward Churchill affair:

And, in fact, in the rush to build ethnic studies programs, a lot of
people of very dubious qualifications were given tenure, often based
more on ethnic credibility and political activism than any academic
qualifications.  Hell, Cal State Long Beach hired a paranoid schizophrenic
who had served prison time for beating and torturing two women as the
head of their Black Studies department.  And universities like UC
patted themselves on their politically correct backs for these hirings.

I could go out tomorrow and find twenty tenured professors of
ethnic/racial/gender studies in state universities whose academic
credentials are at least as bad as Churchill's and whom no one would dare fire.  This has nothing to do with Churchill's academic work or its quality.  UC is getting exactly what it expected when it tenured him.

Tautology (and Thoughts on Ward Churchill)

Todd Zywicki notes that Congress "has been on a binge diet of junk social science."  Is there another kind of social science?  Particularly in the media, I really think the main influence of social science has been to substantially lower the bar for scientific inquiry and skepticism thereof.

Update: On a related note, these really low academic standards in the social "sciences" are the reason I think firing Ward Churchill is bogus, as I wrote here.  Academic standards for things like ethnic or gender studies are incredibly low, particularly for the "research" done in these departments.  As I pointed out before, Cal State Long Beach, for example, hired a paranoid schizophrenic who had served prison time for beating and torturing two women as the head of their Black Studies department.  It is almost impossible to imagine Ward Churchill fired for violating the academic standards of his discipline because his discipline tends to have none, and everyone knows it.  The University of Colorado fully knew what it was getting with Ward Churchill, but they hired him to check a politically correct racial/gender/ethnic box.  Everything UC supposedly fired him for were known to them or should have been known to them with the most minimal of due diligence when they tenured the guy.  Nothing has changed, except that he is no longer a PR asset for the university.  As I wrote previously:

I could go out tomorrow and find twenty tenured professors of
ethnic/racial/gender studies in state universities whose academic
credentials are at least as bad as Churchill's and whom no one would dare fire.  This has nothing to do with Churchill's academic work or its quality.  UC is getting exactly
what it expected when it tenured him.  This is about an attempt to fire
a tenured professor for the content of his speech, speech that has
embarrassed and put pressure on the university, and I can't support
that.

Even More:  Background from KC Johnson:

Churchill was hired through a "special opportunity" position, designed
by the university to help "recruit and hire a more diverse faculty." He
had an M.A. from little-known Sangamon State University and no Ph.D at
all. As documents from the time noted, his qualifications included only two items: strong lobbying from Evelyn Hu-DeHart,
the chair of the Ethnic Studies program, and the now-disputed fact that
"Ward is a Native American," meaning his hire would contribute "to
increasing the cultural diversity on campus."...

How, then, could his fellow academics have originally found Churchill's
scholarship acceptable? The outcome, alas, suggests that in politicized
fields such as African-American Studies, Women's Studies, and Ethnic
Studies, the message too often trumps quality. In this case, it appears
that Churchill's extremist arguments that the U.S. government engaged
in genocide against Native Americans blinded his academic reviewers to
the poor quality of his scholarship. Indeed, some Churchill
sympathizers, led by Cornell professor Eric Cheyfitz,
have continued to maintain that the former professor's writings
constitute appropriate scholarship for the field of Ethnic Studies.

I contend that Churchill was and is still exactly what UC thought he was, and his scholarship was and still does exactly conform to the (miserably low) standards of his discipline.

A Thought on Ward Churchill

I suppose this is going to be one of those nutty libertarian rants that help explain why libertarians do so poorly at the polls, but I am not really very comfortable with Ward Churchill's potential firing from University of Colorado.  I can't think of very many things Mr. Churchill has said that I agree with, but I still have this crazy idea about defending speech regardless of the content of the speech.

And it is hard for me to escape the sense that Mr. Churchill may lose his tenured position at a state-run institution over the content of his speech.  Yeah, I know, its nominally about his academic credentials.  But don't you think everyone is winking at each other about this?  Yes, Mr. Churchill is an academic fraud, but he was a fraud when UC hired him and tenured him as well, and they should have known it.

Over a couple of decades, every major university in the country rushed to build, practically from scratch, racial and ethnic and gender studies programs and departments.  Had every university raced at the same time to build any discipline, talent would run short and in the hiring race, some under-qualified people would be hired.  Let's suppose that every university decided at the same time they needed a climate department, there just would not be enough qualified climate scientists to fill out every position.  The rush to build ethnic studies programs was similar but in fact a bit worse.  Because while some people actually do have climate-related degrees, no one until recently had an ethnic studies degree.  What professional qualifications should a school look for?  And, in fact, in the rush to build ethnic studies programs, a lot of people of very dubious qualifications were given tenure, often based more on ethnic credibility and political activism than any academic qualifications.  Hell, Cal State Long Beach hired a paranoid schizophrenic who had served prison time for beating and torturing two women as the head of their Black Studies department.  And universities like UC patted themselves on their politically correct backs for these hirings.

I could go out tomorrow and find twenty tenured professors of ethnic/racial/gender studies in state universities whose academic credentials are at least as bad as Churchill's and whom no one would dare fire.  This has nothing to do with Churchill's academic work or its quality.  UC is getting exactly what it expected when it tenured him.  This is about an attempt to fire a tenured professor for the content of his speech, speech that has embarrassed and put pressure on the university, and I can't support that.

Harvard Economist Roland Fryer

Many universities over the last several decades have created race and gender studies programs.  One of the problems with many of these programs has been the appalling quality of scholarship.  The recent broohaha around Ward Churchill at Colorado is but one example -- there are many others.  For example, look how Cal-State Long Beach chose the head of their Black Studies Department:

On September 17, 1971, Karenga was sentenced to one to ten years in prison on counts of felonious assault and false imprisonment. The charges stemmed from a May 9, 1970 incident in which Karenga and two others tortured two women who Karenga believed had tried to kill him by placing "crystals" in his food and water.
       

A year later the Los Angeles Times described the events: "Deborah Jones, who once was given the title of an African queen, said she and Gail Davis were whipped with an electrical cord and beaten with a karate baton after being ordered to remove their clothes. She testified that a hot soldering iron was placed in Miss Davis' mouth and placed against Miss Davis' face and that one of her own big toes was tightened in a vice. Karenga, head of US, also put detergent and running hoses in their mouths, she said."       

The shooting at UCLA caused Karenga to become deeply paranoid and spurred his bizarre behavior. At his trial, the question of Karenga's sanity arose. The psychiatrist's report stated, "This man now represents a picture which can be considered both paranoid and schizophrenic with hallucinations and elusions, inappropriate affect, disorganization, and impaired contact with the environment." The psychiatrist observed that Karenga talked to his blanket and imaginary persons and believed that he had been attacked by dive-bombers.

Eight years later California State University at Long Beach made Karenga the head of its Black Studies Department.

Or, check out the scholarly discussions around choosing the head of Black Studies at UCLA:

In 1965 Karenga founded the United Slaves Organization (US), a group that would rival the Black Panthers on the UCLA campus. The US was more radical than the Panthers, setting off quarrels between the two.
       

The biggest dispute between the US and the Panthers centered around the leadership of the new Afro-American Studies department at UCLA; both groups backed a different candidate. On January 17, 1969, 150 students gathered to discuss the situation. Panthers John Jerome Huggins and Alprentice Carter used the meeting to verbally attack Karenga, much to the dismay of his followers. Two US members, George and Larry Stiner, confronted Huggins and Carter in a hallway after the meeting and shot and killed them.

Universities all raced to create new race and gender-based studies departments, and tenured many  based on their strong opinions and the positive response they would get out of the relevant community, rather than normal academic guidelines.

Anyway, I have, as often happens, gotten away from the point of my post.   The NY Times has a good article on Roland Fryer, who appears to be the leading edge of a new generation set on bringing real scholarship and fact-based analysis to these programs.  (hat tip:  marginal revolution)  I don't necessarily agree with him, for example on paying cash for good grades in school, but I am happy to see his dedication to real analysis and challenging conventional wisdom.