Tag Archives: sociology

Can Sociology be Saved?

While the American Sociological Association continues to congratulate itself for a rising number of bachelor’s degrees in sociology, traditional sociology seems to matter less than ever before. Apart from the recent and brilliant Strangers in Their Own land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild, not many sociologists have a good grasp of what’s happening in society today.

The Vote for Trump

And few, other than Hochschild, seem to have any idea of how to explain what motivated union members, women, minorities and the working poor to help elect President Donald Trump. In a series of articles about the 2016 election, published by the ASA, sociologists erroneously blamed racism, hyper-masculinity, Islamophobia, and xenophobia, for the attraction to President Donald Trump.

The increases in sociology undergraduate majors has more to do with student fascination with criminology and criminal justice concentrations within the sociology major than it does with traditional sociology. Realizing that the traditional discipline no longer attracted undergraduates, many sociology departments became savvy marketers promising potential criminology students that they would be studying subjects like serial killers, gangs, school shootings, family violence and substance abuse.  For example, one Texas university sociology website posts “true-crime” photos of the Columbine school shooters, and Jeffrey Dahmer, the infamous cannibalistic serial murderer, to draw students to their criminology courses.

The CSI Effect

Even the ASA attributes a kind of “CSI-effect” for the increase in criminal justice concentrations in sociology and laments that part-time adjunct faculty who work in forensics, law enforcement, corrections, and juvenile justice are more likely to teach these undergraduate “sociology” students than traditionally trained PhD-level sociologists.

In fact, the ASA was so concerned about the loss of traditional sociology that the organization commissioned a study in 2011 which acknowledged that increasing numbers of sociology departments fear losing majors as the number of criminology and criminal justice students continue to increase while those who major in sociology without this concentration have dramatically declined.

The Profession Decomposes

The splintering off from traditional sociology was predicted decades ago by the late great sociologist, Irving Louis Horowitz, in his book, The Decomposition of Sociology.  Horowitz decried the “separation of the substance” of sociology into its elements, and claimed that the breakdown has caused “the decay of sociology as a field of study.”  Pointing out that sociology had dissolved into its parts: criminology, urban studies, demography, policy analysis, social history, decision theory, and hospital and medical administration, Horowitz charged that all sociology has been left with is “pure theory: sections of itself on Marxism, feminism and Third Worldism.” For Horowitz, sociology had become “a strident interest group, a husk instead of a professional society.”

The Discontent of Politicization

The politicization of the discipline has created “a repository of discontent,” he wrote, that is no longer a science of society, but rather a gathering of individuals who have special agendas, from GLBTQ rights to radical feminism and liberation theology.  The consequence of the influx of ideologists and special interests has been the outflow of scientists of those for whom the study of society is an empirical discipline, serving at most, those policy planners interested in piecemeal reform.

Horowitz writes, “Sociology has seen the departure of urbanologists, social planners, demographers, criminologists, penologists, hospital administrators, international development specialists—in short, the entire range of scholars for whom social science is linked to public policy.” Today, in criminology, sociologists play a minor role, eclipsed by the expertise of police officers, forensics experts, legal and paralegal personnel. As Horowitz warned, “sociology is now reduced to barking from the sidelines with such shrill treatises as Against Criminology.”

There was a time when sociology was willing to provide verifiable facts on social phenomenon—even if the data did not support the claims of the advocacy community. But, because so much sociological research is now agenda-driven, many of our statistics are suspect.  Helping to maintain the false narrative that one-in-five women on college campuses are victims of sexual assault, some sociologists have been complicit in promoting a moral panic on campus.

Despite the false narrative that college campuses have become unsafe places for women, a recent study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics has revealed that the rate of rape and other sexual assault on college campuses has actually declined from 9.2 per 1,000 college students in 1997 to 4.4 per 1,000 in 2013.  Far from being a site of violence, the data indicates that female college students are safer from sexual assault while in college than at any other time in their lives.

Didn’t Fit the Narrative

Yet, much of sociology seems to have missed these data because they do not fit the narrative of a hypermasculinized culture that victimizes women. Even the highly respected sociologist Barbara Risman, a former President of Sociologists for Women and Society, has added to that false narrative on the contributors to sexual violence on college campuses. Risman claims to have begun her commitment to ending gender inequality when she experienced sexual discrimination at her own bat mitzvah in 1968—a time when only boys were allowed to read from the Torah.

In a recent article published by the American Sociological Association entitled, “How to Do Sociology in the Trump Era,” Risman suggests that sociologists need to “focus on the culture…get our ideas, research and evidence out there…bring our work beyond the New York Times.” The only problem is that people have seen some of their sociological “research and evidence” and they know that much of it is false.

Many of us have learned that some sociological research studies are “more equal than others.” Just ask sociologists, Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas at Austin, and Paul Sullins of Catholic University—both of whom have used sophisticated statistical modeling and non-partisan national data sets to study the effects of same-sex parenting on children, and both have been vilified because of their politically incorrect findings.

Regnerus found that children raised in households where at least one parent had had a same-sex relationship reported higher rates of unhappiness and relationship instability. And in a study that used data from the nonpartisan National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to track children raised by same-sex couples over a period of 13 years, Sullins found that those raised in same-sex homes were at over twice the risk of depression than those raised by heterosexual parents.

Misstating Data for a Cause

The children raised in same-sex households were also more likely to experience obesity, “imbalanced closeness,” and child abuse. Worse, the difference between traditional and same-sex homes was even more marked when it came to considering suicide: 7 percent of young adults raised in traditional families reported having suicidal thoughts compared with 37 percent of same-sex homes.

Defining down the Regnerus and Sullins data, the ASA filed an amicus curiae brief with the Supreme Court in 2015 in the same-sex marriage cases that were then pending before the court. In the brief, the ASA maintained that there is a “social-science consensus that children raised by same-sex parents fare just as well as children raised by different-sex parents.” Referring specifically to the data presented by Regnerus and Sullins, the ASA claimed in the brief that the negative research findings by Regnerus and Sullins has been “mischaracterized” by same-sex marriage opponents, and concluded that “we should not exclude children living with same-sex parents from the additional stability and economic security that marriage can provide.”

Randall Collins, the President of the ASA in 2010-2011, once lamented that sociology has “lost all coherence as a discipline; we are breaking up into a conglomerate of specialties, each going its own way and with none too high regard for each other.” With more than 50 different sections, the ASA itself has indeed splintered into interest and advocacy groups. Sometimes even the sections themselves have had to split over theoretical or methodological disagreements over contested terrain. There are now two separate sections devoted to sexuality: one is called the Sociology of Sexualities, and the other is the section on Sex and Gender. There is talk of a further split as the transgendered have become concerned about marginalization by the other two.

Sociology Lost its Way

Some of the sections are devoted to esoteric topics.  For example, the section on Body and Embodiment is devoted to encouraging and enhancing theory, research teaching on human and non-human bodies, morphology, human reproduction, anatomy, body fluids and other similar topics.  A prize-winning paper in that section a few years ago was titled: “Sometimes I think I might say too much: Dark Secrets and the Performance of Inflammatory Bowel Disease.”

Irving Louis Horowitz knew in 1994 that sociology had lost its way—but his book offered a way out.  He knew that sociology could offer a common language of discourse, logic and method, but he also knew that a positive outcome for sociology required what he called “a double-edged struggle: against the political barbarians at the gate and against the professional savages who have already gotten inside.”  He knew that the price of success would be high, but the cost of failure—to sociology as well as to society itself —makes the effort an absolute necessity.

Anne Hendershott is a professor of sociology and Director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio.  She is the author of Status Envy: The Politics of Catholic Higher Education (Transaction Books).

Regnerus and the ‘Liberal War on Science’

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The
ongoing controversy over University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus is a
textbook example of how a legitimate scholarly dispute can turn into a
political witch-hunt. Regnerus, an associate professor of sociology at Texas’s
flagship campus in Austin, published a peer-reviewed paper in June in the
journal Social Science Research concluding that the adult children of
parents in same-sex relationships fare worse in a number of ways–alcoholism,
depression, drug use, and so forth–than the adult children of parents in
stable heterosexual marriages. Other sociologists have contested both
Regnerus’s findings and his methodology. But instead of challenging the results
of Regnerus’s research via normal scholarly channels–reviews, other scholarly
papers, or conference panels–Regnerus’s opponents have sought to delegitimize
him both personally and as a professional academic. They have attacked his
editors at Social Science Research, and they have goaded the UT-Austin
administration into investigating him for scientific misconduct. They have
fought their battle not in the journals but in the pages and web-pages of Mother
Jones
and the Huffington Post. Regnerus, a Catholic convert, has
even been aligned with the Catholic traditionalist group Opus Dei that is every
progressive’s favorite faith-based werewolf. Shades of The Da Vinci Code!

Continue reading Regnerus and the ‘Liberal War on Science’

Dissenting Scholarship Draws ‘Misconduct’ Inquiry

Mark Regnerus is a tenured associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas, Austin. He published a paper in the peer-reviewed sociological journal Social Science Research. The paper, detailing the results of a study of children growing up in households headed by same-sex couples, concluded that those children may be at disadvantage “when it comes to certain forms of success in adulthood,” Inside Higher Education reported. The study was funded by the Bradley Foundation and the Witherspoon Institute, two conservative organizations that have funded anti-same-sex-marriage advocacy.

Continue reading Dissenting Scholarship Draws ‘Misconduct’ Inquiry

The Hunt for Conservative and Liberal Genes

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Based on “new findings involving behavioral genetics,” reports the Chronicle of Higher Education,
a growing clump of contemporary social scientists agrees with Gilbert
and Sullivan that both liberals and conservatives (but especially
conservatives) are the product of nature, although they seem to find
nature’s production of conservatives more tragic than comic.

Swimming upstream against the strong current of conventional campus
wisdom holding that just about everything controversial –race, sexual
preference, IQ, gender identity and even gender itself — is “socially
constructed,” these behavioral geneticists believe that political
differences are not caused primarily by conflicting ideologies or moral
visions but instead are deeply rooted in the psyche and even the genes.
As one of these scholars put it, “The differences between political left
and right are now being recognized as ‘very deep and psychological,
such that they connect with very basic personality tendencies that don’t
really have anything in particular to do with politics.'” One estimate
“showed that as much as 40 percent of a person’s political orientation
can be explained by genes.”

Continue reading The Hunt for Conservative and Liberal Genes

Inequality Courses on Campus
Mostly One-sided and Dishonest

            By Charlotte Allen and George Leef

inequality.jpgThis article was prepared by Minding the Campus and the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

A new movement is rising on American campuses, timed perfectly to feed the frenzy over the income gap that is Occupy Wall Street’s main complaint. But this movement isn’t street populism; it’s another way for leftist professors to mold student beliefs.

Charlotte Allen’s essay, “The Inequality Movement – A Campus Product”
examined the phenomenon of college courses and programs on
inequality–that is, on income and other social differences among people.
It prompted both of us to wonder if students taking those courses would
hear any ideas inconsistent with the “liberal” orthodoxy that income
inequality is unjust, has been principally caused by racism, sexism, and
free enterprise, and must be combated with a variety of government
laws, regulations, and aid programs.

To find out, we investigated the syllabi and readings for a dozen
courses at well-known colleges and universities, public and private,
around the United States. The courses are:

Continue reading Inequality Courses on Campus
Mostly One-sided and Dishonest

A Social Scientist Who Made a Difference

irvinglouishorowitz.jpgIrving Louis Horowitz, who died last week at 82, was a force of nature–a brilliant, cantankerous, sociologist of astonishing range; a forceful and important publisher (Transaction Books, Society magazine); and a radical acolyte of C. Wright Mills who moved to the right as he saw the crippling effect doctrinaire Marxists were having on social science and on American universities in general.

He was indescribable in life, and now that he has passed, description is yet more difficult. How to explain the way this relentless American captured the very core of European academic publishing and did so with an elan, capaciousness, and certainty which put to shame the coyly careful deliberation of competing publishers. He was on his own and was beholden to no suits, and may not even have owned a suit himself, except perhaps one he rented from himself for the state occasions even civilians must endure. How he managed the finances of his operation was a question which provoked many who threw up their ink-stained hands and finally simply decided: this was how ILH did things and the luckier we were for it.

Continue reading A Social Scientist Who Made a Difference

The ‘Inequality’ Movement–A Campus Product

Robin Hood Index.jpgThe sharp political focus on inequality, driven into the public mind by the Occupy movement and endorsed by President Obama in his State of the Union message, was born, not on the street, but on the campus. It thrives there, mostly under the aegis of elite universities such as Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Columbia and Johns Hopkins. Those universities have free-standing inequality centers bearing such titles such as Multidisciplinary Program on Inequality and Social Policy (Harvard), Global Network on Inequality (Princeton), and the Center for the Study of Poverty and Inequality (Stanford).

Cornell now offers a minor in inequality studies for students who are ” interested in government service, policy work, or related jobs in nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), or want to go on to graduate work in anthropology, economics, government, history, law, literature, philosophy, psychology, public policy, or sociology.”

Continue reading The ‘Inequality’ Movement–A Campus Product

Lady Gaga Makes It to Harvard

                        By Charlotte Allen

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What is it about academics and Lady Gaga? Last year it was a freshman writing course at the University of Virginia titled “GaGa for Gaga: Sex, Gender, and Identity.” This fall there’s an upper-division sociology course at the University of South Carolina titled “Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame.” Meghan Vicks, a graduate student in comparative literature at the University of Colorado, co-edits a postmodernist online journal, “Gaga Stigmata: Critical Writings and Art About Lady Gaga,” in which the names “Judith Butler” and “Jean Baudrillard” drip as thickly as summer rain and the tongue-tripping sentences read like this: “And her project? – To deconstruct the very pop culture that creates and worships her, and to explore and make problematic the hackneyed image of the pop icon while flourishing in the

A Study Sets Out to Prove Tea Partiers Are Racist

tea_party.jpgAmong those prizing truth, modern social science does not enjoy an especially good reputation. As a political scientist myself, I’ve long encountered conservatives who often complain that much contemporary social science does little more than demonize conservative views. Unfortunately, such grumbling is often correct but that said, complainers rarely grasp how this bias is imposed and, more important, why bias passes professional scrutiny. The answers are simple, the rules for conducting research themselves permit social scientists to create “reality” and with that power, run-of-the mill dishonesty is unnecessary.

To illustrate how research can be weaponized for ideological purposes, all the while honoring the conventions of modern social science, consider a paper presented at the 2011 American Political Science Association’s annual national meeting castigating the Tea Party movement as “racist.” It was written by a well-respected academic who heeded all the accepted (and scientific) disciplinary conventions. Indeed, I strongly suspect that the ideologically-driven Tea Party bashing was scarcely noticed by peers who initially screened the paper or were in the Seattle audience when it was presented. This is the point: bias is so deeply ingrained, so professionally acceptable, that it escapes notice.

Continue reading A Study Sets Out to Prove Tea Partiers Are Racist

More Ed-School “Social Justice” Studies

The Boston Globe brings news of “discord” at the Harvard Education School. The issue, incredibly, involves claims by graduate students and some faculty members that the institution is insufficiently committed to a left-wing educational agenda.

Over the last few years, three “social justice” professors left the Graduate School of Education, including the husband-wife duo of Marcelo and Carola Suarez-Orozco. (She explores such only-in-academia topics as “the role of the ‘social mirror’ in identity formation” and “the gendered experiences of immigrant youth.”) In an example of the operation of free market capitalism that their scholarship would seem to condemn, the Suarez-Orozcos left Harvard for NYU.

This background contributed to the protests that erupted after the school denied tenure to Mark Warren. Warren describes himself as “a sociologist concerned with the revitalization of American democratic and community life,” who studies “efforts to strengthen institutions that anchor inner-city communities–churches, schools, and other community-based organizations–and to build broad-based alliances among these institutions and across race and social class.” His latest book is Fire in the Heart: How White Activists Embrace Racial Justice,which purports to “show white Americans can develop a commitment to racial justice, not just because it is the right thing to do, but because they embrace the cause as their own.”

The GSE grants tenure to around 20 percent of its junior faculty, a rather high percentage for any Harvard entity. So Warren’s chances were never particularly good. And neither the Globe article nor any other reporting I’ve seen on the case alleges procedural or other forms of impropriety in the tenure decision.

Nonetheless, a group of graduate students penned an open letter implying that Warren deserved tenure simply because of the agenda associated with his scholarship. Meredith Mira, a fifth-year doctoral student, termed the decision “incredibly demoralizing,” and complained, “Without this knowledge, we aren’t adequately prepared to go out and lead education reform.” Warren himself implied that the subject of his scholarship alone should have justified tenure. He told the Globe, “The work I do on community organizing has an essential contribution to make to addressing the problems facing our public education system and I am disappointed to see that it does not have a place at Harvard.”

Dean Kathleen McCartney could have responded to such protests by noting the obvious–“social justice” is an empty term, whose precise meaning depends on the political beliefs of the faculty member. Warren’s definition of “racial justice,” for instance, clearly does not include those who (quite reasonably) define “racial justice” as ensuring that all American citizens are treated equally under the law and by government entities, regardless of the color of their skin or their ethnic background. And the “social justice” championed by graduate students such as Mira clearly would not include figures who define “social justice” as upholding Biblical fundamentalism by denying gay and lesbian couples the opportunity to adopt children.

In short, by embracing the promotion of “social justice” as a legitimate goal of public education, left-wing extremists like those at the Harvard Education School provide a cover for right-wing extremists like the Texas Board of Education to impose their own view of “social justice” on public school students.

But McCartney didn’t communicate that message. Instead, she bent over backwards to appease the protesters. In an open letter, she promised that the school’s curriculum would remain “directly relevant to issues of equity, diversity, and social justice.” McCartney additionally informed the Globe that social justice studies “is an area we need to strengthen.”

The dean’s handling of this affair unintentionally revealed the continued irrelevance of education schools, which remain committed to using jargon to impose the professors’ one-sided political views on the nation’s public educational system.

Shame on the Sociologists

Who knew the American Sociological Association was this bad? The Association put out a pompous and wrongheaded statement in defense of radical sociologist Frances Fox Piven, who has been under attack from Glenn Beck. In the 60’s, Piven made a name for herself by urging people to flood onto the welfare rolls to overload and break the system so government would be forced to grant everyone a guaranteed annual wage. She resurfaced recently with an article in The Nation magazine calling for riots, which drew the criticism from Beck and some hate mail and death threats. The article, “Mobilizing the Jobless,” said, “an effective movement of the unemployed will have to look something like the strikes and riots that have spread across Greece in response to the austerity measures forced on the Greek government by the European Union, or like the student protests that recently spread with lightning speed across England in response to the prospect of greatly increased school fees…”
Did the American Sociological Association step in to say that an invitation to violence on the scale of what happened in Greece is somewhat problematic among social scientists? No. It followed the framing of the story by the New York Times, where the real news wasn’t Piven’s call for riots, but instead the reaction it drew–hate mail and death threats. Well, yes, hate mail is bad and death threats dangerous. But focusing on reaction is a classic way of avoiding the original provocation. The Association said of Piven that “scholars of her caliber…should stimulate equally levels of serious challenge and creative dialogue.”
Blogger Ann Althouse wrote in derision: “So vigorous debate about Piven’s ideas is really important, but it better be the right kind of debate by the right kind of people and certainly not that terrible, terrible man Glenn Beck. She’s very lofty and serious, so, while she should be challenged, she must be challenged only by lofty and serious individuals, and of course, Glenn Beck is not one.”
Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit added a reminder that the Greek riots, which Piven yearns to see replicated here, caused four deaths, three serious injuries and heavy street damage as well. He wrote, “Just so we remember who’s actually advocating violence here. Shame on the American Sociological Association for trying, however ineptly, to obscure that point.”

The Forty-Year Failure of American Sociology

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I hesitate to criticize sociology or sociologists. After all I am now at nearly a lifetime in the discipline, which I have taught for more than thirty years. But I would be dishonest if I did not acknowledge that throughout that time I have been a dissident in the field, a role, protected by tenure, which has challenged a complacency that some–mistakenly–now put at the doorstep of tenure. The problem for sociology was never complacency, but rather irrelevance, a misguided regard for political conviction rarely overcome by facts.

Consider divorce in America: it has taken sociologists forty years to conclude that divorce, in a strictly statistical sense, is not good for children. Many sociologists of my generation were at the forefront of arguing for more liberal divorce laws in the 1960s, and they devoted their careers to studying carefully the consequences of the social changes wrought. The news was not surprising, really. Kids adapt, no question about that, but adaptation is not the only lesson or goal in life. Divorced families are financially poorer; the children of divorced families do more poorly in school, and they suffer more from depression; and the list of collateral damages goes on.

The liberal sentiments of the 1960s did what J.S. Mill’s critic, James Fitzjames Stephen, said Mill did in his time: “Strenuously preach and rigorously practice the doctrine that our neighbor’s private character is nothing to us, and the number of unfavorable judgments formed, and therefore the number of inconveniences inflicted by them, can be reduced as much as we please, and the province of liberty can be enlarged in a corresponding ratio. Does any reasonable man wish for this?” Sociologists, once responsible for understanding the nature of moral and social life, grew silent in their regard for moral judgment, except as political judgment. Sociology as a field and through its professional association simply became a mouthpiece for progressive politics, sounding evermore peculiar to all but the most elite Americans still enmeshed in the daily problems and struggles of moral and social existence.

Continue reading The Forty-Year Failure of American Sociology

The Politically Correct University and How to Fix It

With various co-authors, University of British Columbia Sociologist Neil Gross has made a cottage industry of downplaying charges that academia is politically correct. Seemingly, the left’s domination of social science and humanities departments is of no more concern than the fact, cited by Thomas Sowell, that in the 1990s, Cambodians ran 90 percent of California’s donut shops.
Gross’s studies appeal because they serve the psychological needs of professors. It is comforting to think that we smart folks just happen to surround ourselves with people who think just like we do. Gross assures us that there is nothing unseemly here. Collegiate single-mindedness is of course totally different from the groupthink that characterized the George W. Bush White House, to take a not quite random example.
In fairness, Gross and his colleagues have made some sound points over the years. For example, most academics do not think of themselves as political extremists but as centrists. Of course this is no surprise. People compare themselves to their peers, so liberal professors are indeed in the center or even the right compared to their colleagues on the far left. Some surveys indicate that a quarter of sociologists are self-proclaimed Marxists, meaning that there are quite literally more socialists in Harvard faculty lounges than in the Kremlin. It is not difficult to seem moderate or even conservative in such company.
Gross and others are correct to say that not all of the pronounced leftist tilt in the academy reflects discrimination. As Matthew Woessner and April Kelly Woessner point out in a chapter in my co-edited The Politically Correct University, conservatives value family life more than liberals; thus academically talented liberals are more willing to delay childbearing for the decade it takes to earn a doctorate, and more apt to leave their families and hometowns to attend PhD programs thousands of miles distant. Liberals may talk more about relationships, but conservatives seem less willing to jettison them for academic self-expression.
Yet to say that not all of the conservative under-representation reflects discrimination is very different from saying that none of it does. The Woessners also find that conservative undergraduates receive less mentoring from faculty. This too may explain why fewer conservatives apply to PhD programs, even though conservative and liberal undergraduates have identical GPAs. Similarly, a recent and much hyped Gross co-authored paper argues that conservatives eschew academic careers because of “typing,” the stereotype that professors are liberal. As Steve Balch points out, much of this reasoning is circular. How exactly is the stereotype that professors are supposed to be liberal any different from stereotypes that women are not supposed to study science or that African Americans are not supposed to be chief executives? Wouldn’t we find it offensive if a CEO explained an all white management team by saying that “African Americans don’t type themselves as executives?”
Academia is a merit system based on publication, but one that works better for some than others. In The Politically Correct University Stan Rothman and Bob Lichter present evidence that professors holding socially conservative views must publish more to get the same jobs, with ideology having about one-third of the statistical power of one’s publication record. Among professors who have published a book, 73% of Democrats but only 56% of Republicans hold high prestige academic posts. Both statistics and “lived experience” suggest that I am not the only conservative or libertarian professor denied a job or two. And it is no surprise that as the academic job market grew tight in the 1970s, ever more discriminating faculties became more ideologically homogeneous, hiring clones rather than peers.

Continue reading The Politically Correct University and How to Fix It

On Pigeons, Pells and Student Incentives

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Jackson Toby, professor emeritus of sociology at Rutgers and author of the new book, The Lowering of Higher Education in America, delivered this speech yesterday (April 7) at a luncheon in New York City. The luncheon, at the University Club, was sponsored by the Manhattan Institute’s Center for the American University and Minding the Campus.

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“Is College Graduation Enough for a Good Job or Do College Graduates Have to Know Something?” That’s the title of one chapter of my new book. And in an effort to illustrate the problems of evaluating what contemporary college graduates know, I began the chapter with the lyrics of “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” from Cole Porter’s 1948 hit musical Kiss Me Kate.
Broadway audiences didn’t necessarily have to know that the musical was based on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, but it helped. Porter graduated from Yale nearly a century ago. In that era a Yale graduate—or a graduate of any American university—had to have had some exposure to the plays of Shakespeare, because it was an era during which a college education referred to a corpus of common intellectual experiences. Colleges usually had a core curriculum that all graduates had to take, whatever their major or their interests. “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” contained references to Homer, English poets, the Greek playwrights Aeschylus and Euripides, a mention of the “Bard of Stratford-on-Avon,” the town where Shakespeare was born, and puns involving titles to several of Shakespeare’s plays: Othello, Anthony and Cleopatra, Much Ado about Nothing, Coriolanus, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Members of the audience who did not know at least the titles couldn’t understand fully Porter’s witticisms. Consider a few lines from the lyrics:

Continue reading On Pigeons, Pells and Student Incentives

Hate-America Sociology

Recently, a colleague forwarded to me a copy of an exam from an introductory sociology class found lying in a room at a public college in the east. It was graded 100%. The exam deserves to be quoted at length, as parts of it are virtually indistinguishable from the old Soviet agitprop of the Fifties:

Question: How does the United States “steal” the resources of other (third world) [sic] countries?
Answer: We steal through exploitation. Our multinationals are aware that indigenous people in developing nations have been coaxed off their plots and forced into slums. Because it is lucrative, our multinationals offer them extremely low wage labor (sic) that cannot be turned down.
Question: Why is the U.S. on shaky moral ground when it comes to preventing illegal immigration?
Answer: Some say that it is wrong of the United States to prevent illegal immigration because the same people we are denying entry to, (sic) we have exploited for the purpose of keeping the American wheel spinning.
Question: Why is it necessary to examine the theory of cumulative advantage when it comes to affirmative action?
Answer: Because it is unfair to discredit the many members of minority groups that have (sic) been offered more life chances through the program.
Question: What is the interactionist approach to gender?
Answer: The majority of multi-gender encounters are male-dominated. for (sic) example, while involved in conversation, the male is much more likely to interrupt. Most likely because the male believes the female’s expressed thoughts are inferior to his own.
Question: Please briefly explain the matrix of domination.
Answer: the (sic) belief that domination has more than one dimension. For example, Males (sic) are dominant over females, whites over blacks, and affluent over impoverished.

This exam was part of the curriculum in a for-credit class at an accredited degree-granting institution. Introductory sociology courses like this one are frequently required, even for non-majors. A student who matriculates in this field of study will have nothing in the way of useful skills, but will be convinced that his country is rotten to the core, and that whites and males are evil.
China encourages its brightest students to study mathematics and engineering. India has become known as a hotbed of tech-savvy computer programmers. Meanwhile, the U.S. spends billions to teach postmodern, left-wing misinformation as objective “fact.”
It seems rather foolish to remain optimistic about the future of this nation when millions of its most “educated” are systematically being taught to loathe it.
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A former member of the Board of Trustees of the State University of New York (SUNY), Dr. de Russy writes on educational and cultural issues. She also serves on the boards of several distinguished organizations dedicated to higher education and other institutional reform.

We Are All Marxists Now

In an unintentional, if powerful, commentary on the grip that groupthink has on some quarters of the economy, LeMoyne professor Dolores Byrnes informed readers of the NEA’s Thought & Action that “some professors of education recently told me during a department retreat: ‘We are all Marxist, it doesn’t even need to be said.'”
No wonder Education schools—from Minnesota to the aggressive practitioners of the “dispositions” criterion—have proven so eager to purge from their ranks those with dissenting opinions. And no wonder LeMoyne’s Ed School was sued for dismissing a student because of his (non-Marxist, naturally) political beliefs. Byrnes’ anecdote also shows just how out of touch the higher education establishment has become—and how the nation’s colleges and universities have suffered as a result.
Essay after essay in the NEA’s annual higher-education publication complains about how professors lack respect from the public, without ever pausing to consider how the image of colleges and universities as the bastion of out-of-touch ideologues might have caused the problem.

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Sociology: Too Popular For Its Professors

Sociology, an academic field that’s been in slow decline for decades after its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s with the likes of social critics Talcott Parsons and C. Wright Mills, has recently gotten a new lease on life – because one of its subfields, criminology, is now one of the most popular majors on college campuses, attracting students ranging from freshmen to doctoral candidates surveying a rich field of job opportunities after graduation. This development has caused some consternation among…sociology professors.

Instead of rejoicing, as one might expect, at the vast influx of students that could mean bigger sociology budgets and even the saving of once-moribund programs from the axe (Washington University in St. Louis, whose sociology department was famous during the 1950s, killed it in 1990 because the students were no longer there), many professors instead denounce what they see as a “cop-shop” mentality fostered by criminologists uninterested in the fashionable pet topics for many in the field: race, class, gender, and social inequality.

According to a report in Inside Higher Education, one of the top agenda items for the American Sociological Association at its annual meeting in early August was the airing of a report by a task force set up to study the relationship between sociology, criminology, and criminology’s nuts-and-bolts-oriented sister discipline criminal justice, another booming field on campuses. The report sparked a spirited discussion that revealed many sociologists’ marked hostility to criminology as a genuine academic discipline. One professor described a department of seven full-time faculty members who “view it as a badge of honor to dismiss criminology” and deal with the growing demand for courses in that area by hiring part-time adjuncts. In another department at a large public university, more than half of the 600 undergraduate sociology majors are choosing criminal justice among five available concentrations, yet only three of the 30 sociologists on the faculty specialize in criminology. Overall, the report noted, two-thirds of sociology enrollments are now in criminal justice, while only one-third of faculty slots are in that subfield. Not surprisingly, many campus criminologists have reacted to the hostility or indifference of their sociologist colleagues by hiving off into their own separate departments of criminology and criminal justice.

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Do Elite Universities Exclude The Poor?

In an Op-Ed in last Monday’s New York Times, UC-Berkeley sociologist Jerome Karabel painted an alarming picture of our elite universities as institutions that systematically discriminate against poor and middle-class students. In Karabel’s words, these schools are “serving less as vehicles of upward mobility than as transmitters of privilege from generation to generation.” This is a depressing analysis of our top academic institutions, but it also happens to be a false one.
While it is true that economically disadvantaged students sometimes get the short shrift in elite college admission, it is equally true that Karabel has used highly biased numbers to argue his case. When the statistical flaws are corrected, a truer picture emerges, one that suggests that the economic diversity at our top colleges is far greater than class warriors such as Karabel would admit.

Most of Karabel’s data in the op-ed comes from a single 2004 study done by the liberal Century Foundation. While the actual economic backgrounds of the students in the survey is somewhat difficult to determine because the study combined economic and non-economic factors, it is virtually certain that the study’s claims are dramatically exaggerated. To understand why, consider the similar claims Karabel made in his recent book, The Chosen.

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