Friday, June 28, 2013

APA and PhilJobs Will Jointly Produce the JFP

Holy shit. According to the email I just got, the APA and the PhilPapers people are merging the JFP with PhilJobs. And it will be free to job seekers, it says. Free! I love free. Holy shit.

They also say they'll use the PhilJobs software, which is better than the new JFP website from last year. So that's good, too.

I think this is a good move. I mean, we'll see what it looks like when it rolls out in a few weeks (or whatever--the timeline is pretty vague). But I gotta say, I've been pretty impressed with the APA lately.

--Mr. Zero

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Fisking the Pinker Letter, or, More on McGinn: I Shouldn't Have Written This and You Shouldn't Read It

In a long tradition of continuing to talk about sexism-related stuff long after everyone is sick of hearing about it, I bring you a third post on L'Pickle McGinn.

McGinn has clearly rejected his own proposal “to say no more on the subject of recent allegations.” There are, by my count, seven additional posts on that subject since the proposal was proposed. (I made a judgement call to not count the one about his female influences, and I have no idea what to make of the one dealing with this "your sister is a prostitute" joke.) One of these contains a letter he received from Steven Pinker, in which Pinker expresses his support and solidarity. (Another contains a ludicrous threat of legal action, and begins by quoting the definition of 'libel' from the OED. Dear God. Since the dawn of time, philosophers have cleverly exploited Grice's findings on implicature in order to amuse themselves on Saturday nights with highly sophisticated X-rated puns.) Pinker's letter contains a number of inaccuracies, is based on a fairly basic misunderstanding of the situation, and is completely unworthy of attention. So obviously I'm going to go through it line by line. 

(Just so we're clear, the Pinker text is bold and      offset; my text justified normally and in italics.)
STEVEN PINKER
Harvard College Professor
Johnstone Family Professor
 
So far, so good. He knows who he is and where he works.
Professor Edwin Ervin 
I'm kinda sure it's 'Erwin' with a 'w', not 'Ervin' with a 'v'. Somehow I don't get the idea that this is going to be Pinker's most thoughtful work.  
Department of Philosophy
University of Miami
Miami, FL
 Coral Gables. 
June 13, 2013 
Dear Professor Ervin, 
Again, it's Erwin. With a 'w'. At least he's consistent.
I join you and other scholars, writers, and activists in protesting the threat of dismissal
According to McGinn, any threat of dismissal has been neutralized by the fact that he resigned. 

Also, activists? What activists?
of a brilliant and distinguished scholar, Colin McGinn, from the University of Miami for apparently nothing more serious than exchanging sexual banter with a graduate student.
McGinn claims that the only charge the University was considering was a failure to disclose a consensual but non-sexual relationship. But since the University has yet to publicly comment on the matter, it's difficult to know with any confidence what they thought he was up to, how serious they thought it was, how serious it actually was, or whether he would have been dismissed over it. 

Also, depending on whether the student was interested in engaging in sexual banter, the exact nature of the banter, and whether the student's participation was strictly and completely voluntary, engaging in sexual banter with a student could be fairly serious misconduct. Again, who knows what was really going on? Certainly not Pinker.
Even if the University had a clear policy that regulated communications between professor and student,
As far as I can tell, the University of Miami does have a pretty clear and sensible policy on this stuff. As I read the policy, very little in the way of professor/student communication is prohibited, though they are careful to point out that the uneven balance of power inherent in the professor/student relationship creates practical difficulties in establishing that the student has genuinely consented. 

It also says, and I have no idea whether this is strictly relevant, that faculty are required to disclose certain kinds of "amorous" relationships to a supervisor, and that they must do whatever is necessary to guarantee that they are not in a position of evaluative authority over someone with whom they are in such an "amorous" relationship. Failure to do so would create a clear conflict of interest, it says. It threatens the faculty member's ability to evaluate the person's work objectively. It can create the appearance (or fact) of favoritism. It creates a risk that the junior person might be exploited. It creates a risk that the faculty member or the University will be sued for sexual harassment, it says. Now, I'm not saying this is the kind of wisdom you'd consider going all the way to Dagobah to receive. But at the very least, it's fairly decent advice, and McGinn seems to have largely ignored it. At his peril. 
the punishment is ludicrously disproportionate to the alleged offense.
Again. McGinn says he wasn't "punished" or even charged by the University. He says he resigned and thereby halted any disciplinary procedures before they began. There's no such thing as the punishment. It doesn't exist.
As well as harming the reputation and intellectual quality of the University of Miami,
There's some low-hanging fruit here, but I'm not going to take it. Instead, I'm going to point out that this is one of the things that makes it so hard to square McGinn's version of the facts with reality. The story doesn't jell. 

McGinn really was one of the more prominent members of the UMiami philosophy department. Though I don't mean to disparage the other members of the department, it seems to be widely acknowledged that McGinn was disproportionately responsible for the department's overall reputation. The administration would have to have known this when they called him into a meeting and told him whatever they told him about what they found out about his "relationship" with his RA, explained to him that he was required by University policy to have disclosed it, and informed him of his options going forward. And whatever they told him must have been at least kind of bad news, or else he wouldn't have resigned rather than fight the charges or accept sanctions. It is at least a little unlikely that they would have done that unless they thought it was sort of serious. Add to that the disconnect between what he seems to have done and what he says the charge was going to be, and I'm not sure how to make it add up. 

Of course, for all I know, the administration was mistaken about how serious it was, or they were out to get him even though they knew he didn't do anything wrong. 

Of course, for all I know, they were not mistaken, or he is paranoid and has a persecution complex. 

On the other hand, maybe Pinker knows more about the case than I do. No he doesn't. 
such an action would put a chill on communication between faculty and graduate students and on the openness and informality on which scholarship depends. 
Perhaps Pinker's scholarship and teaching habits differ from mine (McGinn's seem to, after all), but I have not had to rely in my teaching on lurid puns about handjobs. To a captive audience. And from what has been made public, McGinn didn't get into any actual trouble until he inserted the RA herself into the jokes, and made handjob puns that were literally about her. I don't think I'd be chilled by a policy prohibiting handjob puns involving the students themselves in my communications with them. I don't think that would make me less "open" with them--and if it would make me more closed off, that just speaks to the necessity of the policy. A policy like that would really just codify what I've already been doing this whole time, in an attempt to avoid being thought of as a creep or having to explain my offbeat sense of humor to the Dean. 

There is such a thing as too much openness informality, you know. 
If the dismissal proceeds, I will certainly bring it up with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, on whose advisory board I sit. 
Pinker can rest assured that the dismissal will not proceed, because of the apparently little-known fact that McGinn has resigned his post. 

But really. Although McGinn's posting of the Pinker letter suggests that he substantially approves of it, it doesn't really seem as though FIRE's involvement is something that McGinn would welcome--and I base this entirely on McGinn's statements and actions, and not at all on my own suspicions concerning his innocence or guilt. He says doesn't want to spare the time or resources that a serious defense would require; he's unsure whether his passion for teaching could survive the ordeal; he's concerned about how it would affect his wife and family; he didn't like working at Miami anyway. He says he wants to put this whole mess behind him and move on. So he decided not to contest whatever charges an investigation might have turned up and resigned instead. Take this job and shove it, as the fella says. 

(On the other hand, McGinn doesn't totally act like someone who wants to put this whole mess behind him and move on. Someone who wanted to move on from this might begin by not posting fifteen blog posts about it, including seven following the one where he said he was done talking about it.)

I'm also far from convinced that this is the kind of case that FIRE could really dig its teeth into. I don't follow FIRE's activities very carefully, but it seems like they tend to go after freedom-of-speech/freedom-of-religion/due process cases where there's a relatively compelling prima facie case that someone's Constitutional rights were violated, or that the University jumped the gun in applying discipline, such that the accused didn't get a fair shake. Whereas, based on what has been made public, this seems like a case where the accused really did kind of break the rules, and where it's not possible to know whether he would have gotten a fair shake because he resigned before any shaking took place. I'm not an expert on this sort of thing, but it's hard for me to see where FIRE might find a handhold.
Feel free to circulate this letter, and to add my name to any list of McGinn’s supporters. 
Shorter Pinker: I'm not sure who I'm writing to, and I don't have any idea what's going on, but I have chosen sides and am attaching my name to this half-baked letter, which you should feel free to spread around. 

Man, what a pointless waste of everyone's time.

--Mr. Zero

Thursday, June 20, 2013

On Citations

Kieran Healy's recent posts on co-citations in philosophy (also this one) got me thinking about citations more generally. (Not this kind of citation, or this kind, of course.)

According to Healy, the average paper in his database cites 15 papers. That seems approximately right to me, as far as what is typical. But I find that I almost always cite way more than that, and I almost always want to see more citations when I'm reading. There are several reasons for this. (Some of these are reasons why I try to include more citations, some are reasons why I want to see more citations, and some are kind of both. I hope it will be clear which is which.)

  1. I want to demonstrate the importance of my topic to the referees. I want to show them that my topic is something that prominent people have been talking about in the relatively recent past.
  2. I want to demonstrate that I am up-to-date on the literature, and that my contribution is current.
  3. I want it to literally be true that I am engaging in a current, ongoing philosophical conversation—I don't want it to just look that way (though I realize that ‘demonstrate’ is factive). 
  4. I want to demonstrate that my interpretations are accurate. I have, on occasion, been disbelieved when I have said that certain philosophers said certain things. It can be nice, in these situations, to have a reference in the text indicating where this happened.  It can also be nice to have a quote handy. And, of course, if you have the quote, you have to have the citation. 
  5. I want to demonstrate that I did not just make this up, as a way of lending credence to my views. I am not a very prominent philosopher, and I sometimes find it helpful to point out that other philosophers more prominent than me have made similar points, or are somehow in agreement with me. (I don't have a clear example of this that I'm comfortable sharing, but I regularly see prominent philosophers making bald assertions that no referee would ever permit me to get away with. I tend to have better luck with “it seems to me that p, and I'm not the only one; look at all the smart people to whom it seems that p!”)
  6. I want to alert my reader to more detailed discussions of topics I can cover only briefly. I especially want to do this when the more detailed discussion is something I wrote, but I often want to do it anyways.
Sometimes I see other people not doing this stuff and I get annoyed. Sometimes I'll be reading a paper, and I see the author consider some view or principle or something, and I'll think, “that's crazy. Whoever said that?” and the author doesn't say who said it. And then I'll think, “Geez, why would I ever consider believing that?” and then not only does the author not rehearse the argument, he doesn't even bother to tell me where I might go to find it. Doesn't even give me a name. And then maybe I get kind of interested in knowing whose view it is, or what the argument for it is supposed to be, but then I have to do a bunch of my own research in order to run it down. And then maybe nothing turns up, and I just wasted a bunch of time I could have spent reading something more worthwhile, or researching something that wasn't a dead-end, or writing something of my own, or tickling Junior, or playing Scrabble with Mrs. Zero, or watching baseball, or anything at all. 

So while some of the reasons why I try to cite more papers in my work are kind of utilitarian and bogus, owing to the fact that I'm a nobody who's trying to play defense against hostile referees, I think that some of them are widely applicable. It seems to me that the fact that typical philosophy papers have so few references indicates that we as a discipline have some bad scholarship habits. 

--Mr. Zero

Saturday, June 15, 2013

What to expect when you're expecting tenure...

Some of you are getting ready to move into new jobs this summer. Woohoo! Grad school, postdoc, and adjunct teaching did not prepare me for a tenure-track job in some important ways. Here's a few things it would have helped me to know from the get-go.

1. Once you've landed a TT job, you cannot rest on your laurels. The quest for tenure begins before you've got your books unpacked. Seriously. Hit the ground running, kid. (If you're in a department that lets you go up for tenure early, this is doubly true.)
2. Find out what the specific tenure requirements are for your school and department. Start doing those things right away. Departmental committee work. Some number of p-r publications. A book. Grants. Teaching. If your dept doesn't have some kind of orientation for new faculty, talk to someone on the P&T committee about what you have to do.
3. Keep track of what you do. I find it useful to keep a yearly log of my work activity, with dates, brief description of activity, and time spent. It includes things like meetings, guest lectures, conferences, papers submitted and accepted, papers I reviewed for journals, interviews and promo stuff, training, etc. It just takes a minute to enter the info, and when it comes time for the annual P&T review, it's handy to have it all there in front of you.
4. Keep a "self-promotion" file of stuff that supports you and your work. Print out nice emails from students or colleagues, copies of favorable comments from student evals, reviews of your work, awards and recognition, those stupid certificates you get for completing training, etc. Put notes in there about stuff you've done for others (e.g. helped a student get an internship). If you have anything that shows how awesome you are, put it in the file.
5. Keep your CV up to date all the time. Add all the stuff you never had on it before, like departmental service.
6. Keep track of when/where your papers are cited (I use Google Scholar for this) if you're at a research (or other) school that cares about that. If your papers are not listed on philpapers.org, submit them yourself.
7. Volunteer for the minimum number of committees you can get away with, and volunteer for the ones that are likely to meet the least often. You will not get tenure just for being that person who volunteers for everything and publishes nothing. Here it pays to know what you're expected to do by your department (e.g. smaller departments may expect/need more committee work from each individual, etc.)
8. Find a trusted mentor in the department, a senior person who can advise you on tenure-related matters, fill you in on departmental politics/squabbles/history/culture. Someone you're comfortable talking to. The first several faculty meetings are bewildering. I didn't know what the hell people were talking about half the time.
9. Find a focus in your research. Most Some places (e.g. research-oriented departments) will expect you to at least start to gain a national reputation as a scholar by the time your tenure review comes along (typically 6 years), and to do that, you will likely need to specialize your research and have a coherent and important research agenda. This might not be true of SLACs. If someone knows, please enlighten.
10. Make time to write/do research in proportion, more or less, to how important it is to tenure. This can be especially tough in the first year, if you're teaching new classes and doing preps, but it has to be done. You hopefully have some pubs in the pipeline already, so that one or two of them will be published in your first year. But if you don't do any new work in the first year, your pubs will be scanty to nonexistent in your second year, which is probably when your first probationary period will expire and your first review happens.
11. Build a network/alliance of people in your department or school (for social and professional support) and also start building a network of people nationally/internationally who can support your tenure review by serving as external references. Join the relevant professional societies/groups and go to conferences. Join faculty groups on campus that are relevant to your interests.
12. Juggling work and family is tough, especially when you're moving to a new community and don't know anyone. I wish I had excellent advice on how to do that, but I don't (although it is super helpful if your kid(s) are in school or daycare). Try to make friends with other people in the department who can tell you about useful resources, places to go, reliable daycare, good doctors, dentists, veterinarians, hair salons, etc. Taking care of that day to day stuff can suck up a lot of time when you first land in your new town.

I reckon others will have useful advice. Or questions. Chime in.

~zombie

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Stray Thoughts on the McGinn Kerfuffle

I've had some time to read through and (hopefully) digest McGinn's recent blog posts and related commentary, and I (a) am too lazy to provide links, and (b) have a few disorganized observations I'd like to share. I'm pretty sure that some of these observations have been gleaned from comments here and elsewhere, but searching through all the relevant discussions for the original sources is not going to be possible. If I have stolen one or more of these from you, please let me know in comments. And sorry.

  1. My hypothesis about how the McGinn's "offending" comment might have been related to his research. It was not because, as I speculated, McGinn imagined that there was some non-trivial link between masturbation and the evolution of the hand. Mea culpa.
  2. The presence of a relationship between McGinn's offending comment and his research has been greatly exaggerated. The fact that your research project is about the hand does not mean that your "hand-job" puns are research-related. 
  3. The "Genius Project" is pedagogically ludicrous. I'm not talking about the tennis or whatever, which sounds like a relatively normal mentoring situation. I'm talking about the "nothing will be taboo," "if anyone is uncomfortable, they just have to say so" stuff. That makes no pedagogical sense. 
  4. It's also incredibly naive about human interactions. You can't make a deal with someone that nothing will be taboo or otherwise off-limits. I think about the scene in Pulp Fiction where Vincent Vega tries to get Mia Wallace to promise not to be offended by what he's about to say. A promise like that cannot be taken seriously. 
  5. Nor can you just stipulate that someone will trust you enough to let you know when you have made that person uncomfortable. 
    1. Especially when you are that person's mentor. Especially when you have already gotten that person to agree that there will be no taboos.
  6. If this arrangement is substantially as McGinn describes it, it was a sexual harassment suit waiting to happen. It was only a matter of time.
    1. From the Miami faculty handbook: "Furthermore, the line between consensual and non-consensual relationships may be blurred, particularly in regard to the freedom of the junior party to end the amorous relationship without fear of inappropriate repercussions. This creates vulnerability of the senior party and the University itself to charges of sexual harassment." I realize the relationship was not amorous, but the basic principle applies, especially if the relationship included jokes about who was thinking about whom during some possible interpretation of a 'hand job.' 
  7. Although it's hard to tell exactly what he's talking about, because he doesn't just come out and say what he means and instead couches everything in vague or figurative language (I understand why this is), it seems like he pretty much did what the CHE article says he did. A joke like that, I gave myself a handjob and thought of you, ha ha, is obviously at least potentially inappropriate. Maybe I have a tin ear for this sort of thing, but it's hard for me to imagine a situation in which it wouldn't be kind of weird. Guys usually don't make jokes like that unless they mean it, at least a little. 
  8. I don't understand the "I'm Joking" defense at all. As if it's not possible for jokes to be offensive. 
  9. I've seen several attempts by various people, including the editor of the blog to which McGinn contributes, attempt to claim that it's not possible for the imbalance of power between McGinn and his RA to have been a factor here, because the RA is an adult, not a child or even an undergraduate. This is pure balderdash. Being an adult does not confer immunity to power imbalances.   
  10. He has let his lawyer go. That explains a lot. 
  11. Some of his remarks about the circumstances surrounding the allegations strike me as possibly retaliatory. If so, this would violate University of Miami policy, as well as (so far as I understand them) applicable state and federal laws. Am I right about this?
    1. For another thing, his resignation is effective at the end of this year. He still works for the University of Miami. It seems to me that he can still be disciplined. 
  12. He claims that the University of Miami allows the president of the University to overrule the Faculty Senate sexual misconduct committee's findings. That sounds absolutely batshit insane. Is that true? If so, is that legal? If it is true, then the University of Miami's faculty union is for shit.
  13. He claims that the only charge the University was considering was a failure to disclose a nonsexual relationship. Is that kind of failure to disclose the kind of big deal that it would be worth resigning over? 
    1. I mean, I guess the relationship could be non-sexual while still being inappropriate in a variety of ways, and I guess the threat of a "failure-to-disclose" charge could be just for starters, while they decide whether to conduct a formal investigation and/or wait for the outcome of that investigation. 
    2. Also, what is the academic freedom angle? Why would it be a violation of academic freedom to accept sanctions over a "failure-to-disclose" charge? Is the idea that academic freedom means the freedom to conduct a mentoring relationship however one sees fit, no matter how pedagogically fucked it may be? Because that seems implausible. 
This ended up being more observations than I thought. Sorry. 

--Mr. Zero

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A Few Words on the McGinn Imbroglio

As I guess we all know, Colin McGinn has chosen to resign from the University of Miami rather than allow the University to proceed with an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct involving a research assistant. The article at the Chronicle of Higher Ed is here (paywalled); Sally Haslanger has posted a PDF of the whole thing here. Discussion at NewApps hereherehere, and here; discussion at Feminist Philosophers here; discussion at Leiter here and here.

Briefly, what seems to have happened is this: McGinn had a Research Assistant who was a female graduate student. Last spring, the RA started feeling uncomfortable with McGinn. Then, last April, McGinn allegedly started sending her sexually explicit email messages, including one in which, according to the RA's boyfriend and two unnamed faculty members, “McGinn wrote that he had been thinking about the student while masturbating.”* Wowza.

The RA then contacted the Office of Equality Administration. According to CHE, “after the university's Office of Equality Administration and the vice provost for faculty affairs conducted an investigation, Mr. McGinn was given the option of agreeing to resign or having an investigation into the allegations against him continue in a public setting, several of the philosopher's colleagues said.”

It's hard to know exactly what to make of this. On one obvious interpretation, there's a clearly implied threat: if you don't resign, we're going to publicly drag your name through the mud. And I'm not sure how normal the prospect of a “public” investigation is in this kind of circumstance. For example, if I recall correctly, the Oregon case from a couple of years ago involved an investigation that was supposed to have been kept private, and was made public only in violation of the University's procedures. But procedures vary from institution to institution, and I don't have any expertise here. I don't really have any idea whether this is unusual or not, although my suspicion is that it is at least a little unusual.

It therefore seems reasonable to worry about whether the procedures Miami followed here were respectful of McGinn's right to due process. But it's worth emphasizing that the CHE article is not very clear about precisely what happened—for example, Leiter says that McGinn had legal representation and was acting on his lawyer's advice, but the CHE doesn't mention it. It is also worth emphasizing that the account in the CHE comes from unnamed “colleagues,” not McGinn or his representatives or any official source at the University. And this comment at Feminist Philosophers, the veracity of which I am not in a position to verify, makes the meeting seem at least a little less troubling. On that account, it was more like, we've got some pretty compelling, well-documented evidence of misconduct, which we are duty-bound to pursue; but we'd like to give you the opportunity to resign now and save us both a big headache.

Additionally—and here I want to emphasize that I don't know what happened, I haven't seen the emails, and I don't have any special insight into the matter—my other suspicion is that the allegations are at least somewhat likely to be at least a little true. Again, I don't know anything, but my evidence for this suspicion is how the University has behaved. It seems to me—and it could be that I am being very naive and trusting and totally wrong about this—that if it really is just a “he-said/she-said” type deal, the allegations don't go anywhere. It seems to me that if an RA accuses her supervisor of sending her sexually inappropriate emails and then cannot produce the emails, or the emails don't say what she said they say, the allegations don't go anywhere. Particularly, it seems unlikely that the university would ask the single most prominent scholar in a given department to resign like that in the absence of pretty solid corroborating evidence. But that's not dispositive, and I haven't seen the emails, and I don't know what really happened.

The CHE article also contains this noteworthy passage:
Advocates of Mr. McGinn, however, say that the correspondence may have been misinterpreted when taken out of context.  
Edward Erwin, a supporter of Mr. McGinn who is a professor of philosophy at the University of Miami, said Mr. McGinn was working on a book about human evolution and the hand. Part of the reason Mr. McGinn was sending messages that could be interpreted as sexually explicit, Mr. Erwin said, was probably because of communication about that research.
I'm reading between the lines here, but this explanation—that the discussion of masturbation was an innocent byproduct of research related to human evolution and the hand—makes sense only if McGinn's idea is that masturbation played some non-negligible role in the evolution of the human hand. Now, I'm not a biologist and I'm not competent to evaluate that idea, so I'm not going to tell you how stupid I think it sounds. It doesn't matter how stupid I think this idea is. And I don't really want to speculate about the plausibility of genuinely research-related emails, even on this topic, being misinterpreted in the manner described in the CHE article. I don't want to speculate about how someone might misinterpret a research-related message that innocently discusses the role masturbation played in the evolution of the human hand as saying that he, McGinn, “had been thinking about the student while masturbating.” Or how this alleged misinterpretation might come to be shared by what seems to be at least four different readers, including the RA, her boyfriend, and the two unnamed faculty members. The fact that all this seems totally preposterous is of no interest to anyone whatsoever; I haven't seen the emails and I don't know what they say. For all I know, this preposterous thing is exactly what happened. All I really want to say about this passage is, with friends like this who needs friends?

Professor Erwin goes on:
“There was some sexual talk, banter, puns, and jokes made between the two,”  Mr. Erwin said. “The written records, I believe, show that this was an entirely consensual relationship.” 
No, no. That is not how it works. It is remarkable how profoundly this misunderstands the student/professor relationship. A professor's relationships with his or her students are not “entirely consensual” like that. Student/professor relationships inherently have a highly unequal balance of power. That includes students in one's undergraduate and graduate classes, obviously, but it also includes teaching- and research assistants; academic advisees; people whose thesis or dissertation committees one sits on; exam proctors; everyone. Everyone. Anything a student says or writes to a professor has to be seen in that light. Suppose the professor engages in sexual banter and the student banters back. Maybe that's because she consented and wanted to banter, but maybe it's because the power differential inherent in the relationship placed her in a position of duress, in which she felt like she had to banter or face unpleasant consequences. If the return banter was performed unwillingly or under duress, there is no reason to think that the written records will reveal it.

But the larger point—and on a certain level this is so obvious that it is not worth saying, but on another level it clearly needs to be emphasized—is that when you are dealing with other people, it is not all about you. It is also about the other person. You have to be careful with other people. You have to go out of your way to ensure that they feel comfortable and respected. This is your responsibility if you want to go into the world and deal with the other people there, and it is especially your responsibility if you are a prominent scholar in a highly-respected research university who oversees graduate students who do work for your academic department.

And so it seems to me that there's no scenario in which McGinn is blameless, even if Professor Erwin's story is literally the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The student was a research assistant working for McGinn's department, and he was a prominent scholar serving as her supervisor. He had a responsibility in that capacity to ensure that she felt comfortable and respected. Obviously, given the sexual nature of the research topic, a certain level of sexual content is to be expected, and an RA for such a research topic needs to either be comfortable with that content or ask to be reassigned. (And the researcher needs to make it clear that it is okay to ask to be reassigned.) But Professor Erwin's remarks make clear that McGinn's conduct with this RA went beyond mere discussion of the research material and into “sexual talk, banter, puns, and jokes.” This sexual stuff seems to have made the RA deeply and extremely uncomfortable, and it had a similar effect on her boyfriend and several other faculty members. And McGinn seems to have kept it up for kind of a long time.

You can't do that. It therefore seems to me that the best-case scenario for McGinn is that his behavior warrants disciplinary action, and from there the possibilities only get worse.

--Mr. Zero

*All quotes are from the CHE article.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

[Forgot to Title This Post]

In comments over here, anonymous 8:56 writes:

Hey Smokers, 
I am beginning the first phase of my dissertation research (the topical), and I was wondering if anyone had any specific tips about how to keep track and organize articles, reading notes, etc. and perhaps any tips on how to go about working through a large body of literature. Do you take notes on every article? If so, how much time do you spend summarizing an article? How many articles/chapters do you read per day?  
Thus far, I have been logging everything in a word document, but it's getting out of control...I really need a better (and hopefully less stressful) system 
I really appreciate any advice.

If there's one thing I've learned from the various discussions of research and writing strategies on this blog and others, it's this: there's no one way. I've got things that work ok for me and various anonymouses have things that work for them, but there's nothing anyone can tell you that will be guaranteed to work. Moreover, the dissertation is a learning experience. You're supposed to struggle with it. I know you know all this, but it bears emphasizing. If you knew what you were doing, it wouldn't be a learning experience to do it.

When I'm in reading/research mode, I generally don't compile a formal bibliography or anything like that. Annotated or otherwise. I make use of a couple of bibliography/PDF organization applications, BibDesk and Mendeley (I don't really like Mendeley; I use it because it's free), and I use keywords to help stay organized. But that's about it.

Then I just sort of read, at whatever pace feels right. I start by taking notes in the document itself, be it a book, JSTOR printout, or PDF document, and I start taking more detailed notes in a separate medium only if I can see that the article (or book or whatever) is going to end up being important. But I don't try to read a certain number of things—articles, pages, whatever—per day. I try to give each thing the attention it deserves; sometimes that means breezing through, and sometimes that means spending a week or more on one article.

When I'm dealing with an important article, book, or chapter, I open a .tex file and take notes in it. Depending on where I am in the project, this might be a separate file devoted just to this one article (or whatever), or it might be section in a larger document. Here, I try to articulate the views and the arguments, how the author defends the premises, how the author responds to criticisms, how the material fits into the larger picture, and my own reactions to the material. At this stage I am meticulous about documentation. I quote passages that support my interpretation and cite page numbers. Always cite page numbers. Always. I think about how the material should be organized—I think about what order things should go in. Often, this is not the order in which it appears in the source text. I find that I end up spending a lot of time moving stuff around—I find that I struggle with organizing the ideas more than almost anything else.

At this stage, the distinction between “taking notes” and “drafting” is pretty thin. A lot of the time, I'm taking notes in the actual document I'm writing. However, I still try to be careful in distinguishing between what we might think of as “notes” and what we might think of as “writing”—that is, the very rough “drafty” stuff and the semi-polished stuff that I'm more-or-less satisfied with. (Of course, everything is subject to revision, but some things are more subject than others.) Here I find LaTeX's percent signs to be very valuable. Drafty stuff gets a percent sign with a [bracketed label] indicating why it's percentaged. When the passage is ready for promotion, I delete the percent sign and a new paragraph is born. This also lets me excise material in a slow, noncommittal way. I find that those percent signs get a lot of use.

So, to get back to 8:56's specific questions: I take notes on every article, but often just in the article itself and not necessarily in a separate medium; the amount of time I spend on an article depends on its importance for my project—although I probably wouldn't spend much time summarizing the article, exactly, but would spend whatever time was necessary to summarize the particular arguments or views or whatever that were pertinent; the number of articles/chapters I read in a day depends on the articles and chapters. I don't try to keep summaries of everything in one document; I don't even try to keep summaries of everything.

A dissertation is obviously a big project, and it's obviously going to be difficult to keep track of all your research. So I wouldn't try to keep track of it all in the same place. I'd carve the material up into manageable bits. It is, obviously, customary to organize one's dissertation into chapters, so I'd start there. Maybe organize into sections or subsections if there's a particular chapter that's getting unwieldy. But I suspect that the kind of annotated bibliography 8:56 alludes to, containing all your research for your dissertation, is going to be more trouble than it's worth and will cause you to spend more time than you should on articles and chapters that aren't central enough to your project to be worth it. And, as 8:56 mentions, it will be hard to keep a document like that organized, and so the document wouldn't even be particularly useful.

Anyways, that's what I think. What do you think?

--Mr. Zero