Thursday, March 30, 2006

Research on Liberals and Conservatives on Campus

Continuing the conversation of the accusations by David Horowitz of a left-wing bias on college campuses, Inside Higher Education interviewed a researcher who has been investigating the claim that students with a conservative ideology are more likely to get low or failing grades in their classes.

The researcher, Markus Kemmelmeier, at the University of Nevado at Reno studied a cohort of nearly 4,000 of students over four years. His surveys of these students indicated that, no surprise, students with liberal leanings are more likely to enter fields, such as sociology and cultural studies. Students with conservative leanings are more likely to enter fields, such as business and economics. Grades in those disciplines overall tend to be lower than in the arts and sciences:
So when conservative students complain that their grades are lower than their liberal friends, they may be right--but it has nothing to do with bias.
Grades in the disciplines where liberal students tend to gravitate suggest no relationship between their ideology and the grades they received; whereas:
In disciplines that tend to attract more conservative students (economics and all of the disciplines in business schools), conservatives have a slight edge -- the equivalent of0.25 on a 4 - point graduate point average scale.
This difference is slight, and the researcher cautions liberals declaring a conservative bias on college campuses. Instead, he believes his research demonstrates that there is not a pervasive, systemic liberal bias on college campuses.

Sounds about right to me.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Fun with the Web

Instead of working on my manuscript on disagreement, I'm cleaning out email (a constant necessity).

A few people sent me interesting tidbits that are worth sharing.

The first: A mesmerizing, moving diagram of how the computer works.

The second: Regardless of your political leanings, an entertaining "ragdoll" of President Bush that you can manipulate.

The third: For those of you who've been following the issue of who owns the internet, a terrific map of backbone ownership at the Net Effect blog.

Monday, March 20, 2006

On Spring and Board Games

Today is the first day of spring, although you couldn't tell that here in Albany. It was brisk, baby. This is about the coldest weather we've had all winter. I read today that Albany experienced a January that was a full 9 degrees above average. The weather seems seriously out of wack.

Listening to MarketPlace on NPR, I heard a report about shareholders that are now demanding that the companies they invest in consider and disclose how global warming will impact their long term business. Businesses initially didn't take seriously the questionnaires that were sent out by the Carbon Disclosure Project. But last year, the organization had nearly a 75% response rate. That's pretty darned good, and it signals that companies are starting to take seriously the economic impact the inevitable is going to have on us.

The story closed with a statement that global warming is the new internet: Once it first arrived on the scene, no one had heard of it, but it gets bigger every year, and it's now inevitable that businesses need to figure out how they'll respond to it.

Indeed. Now, if only the government could see the inevitable and begin to seriously address the causes.

As an aside, a friend sent me a link to an article about a new Monopoly-esque board game called "Patriot Act: The Home Version," which parodies our current war on civil liberties. Read the article and download a make-your-own version of the game.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Dancing the Big Dance


I have a confession. I got March Madness fever.

I found myself Thursday night watching the Syracuse - Texas A&M match, warming up for the Big Game last night: Ualbany vs. UConn.

I gathered with my husband and two friends at my local watering hole here in Berne to watch the game on the big screen. As I consumed too much corned beef and cabbage (violating my usual vegetarian rule when eating out), I watched with delight the UAlbany men play a remarkably strong game against UConn the first half.

For a moment there, around minute 11 of the second half, I thought UAlbany must just pull off an historic feat. They were up 12 points (50-38). UConn seemed to be struggling, and UAlbany looked like they could conquer the world. The bar was packed and everyone was cheering. I heard people behind me saying with pride "Hey, you know Frank works there" and "My daughter went to Albany." And, I thought to myself, "These is MY university." Everyone wants to be part of a victory.

But, then, something changed. Albany seemed to shift to a defensive position to try and hold their 12 point lead, but it didn't work, and with only 5 minutes left, UConn was in the lead. Albany began taking wild shots while UConn stayed focused on team play, and in the end UConn won with a 13 point victory.

Nonetheless, we in our little rural bar in New York danced the big dance, proud that UAlbany was on the national stage and competing with the best.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Diebold: "It's not who votes that counts. It's who counts the votes."

A friend sent me a link today to a website with hypothetical Diebold slogans. The slogans are very clever . . .

I confessed to my graduate students last night the conspiracy theory (which I happen to subscribe to) about Diebold helping Republicans steal the election in Ohio in 2004. For a great article on direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines, the business of vote recording, and why we should be worried about fair elections, read Ronnie Dugger's excellent article in Harper's Magazine.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Conservative Witch Hunt of Liberal Professors

David Horowitz, the one man crusader against liberals in the academy (and proponent of the so called Academic Bill of Rights), has published a new book The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America through the conservative Regnery Press.

The book, which describes these 101 most dangerous as "terrorists, racists, and communists," provides short three to five page reports of each faculty member. The accusations of terrorism, racism, or communism are based on thin reading of their academic writings, or unfounded accusations against them (like the write-up of Douglas Kellner that I blogged about awhile back).

This book makes me very anxious, not because I'm afraid that I'll be listed as one of the Top 101 or that I'll be "exposed" for being a leftie. I'm anxious that this book polarizes a debate about ideology on college campuses that will do more harm than good.

Like most if not all professors, I don't wish to bash my students over the head with my ideology. That's not why I became a professor. I became one so that I could understand the political ad communication environment and explain that understanding to my students. Such understanding is grounded in empirical research and vetted through a process of academic reasoning and rigorous peer-review and intellectual debate.

I don't think it's appropriate for faculty to push their ideologies on their students, but I also don't think it's a matter for major concern. When a reporter for the Times Union in October of 2004 came a calling to find out if I thought faculty were promoting their ideology in the classroom, instead of answering him, I went to my students. We had a conversation in my undergraduate public opinion class about whether students found their faculty promoting their own ideology and punishing students for not abiding by it. None of my 30 students felt that they were ever punished for holding different perspectives from their professors. Only two reported that they had experienced a professor mentioning political material in classes where the material didn't seem to fit.

The claim by Horowitz and others on the extreme end of the conservative agenda that professors have created a climate of intolerance for conservative or non-liberal views just doesn't hold water. On the SUNY-wide campus system, with over 400,000 students, there has not been a single formal complaint of ideological bias on campus. The board of trustees invetigated this question after conservative board member Candace DeRussy claimed a prevailing left-wing agenda on SUNY campuses. But, if there has not been a single formal complaint, it's hard to say there's a real problem here.

Now, I do think we faculty need to be self-aware and ensure that we do not create a climate that silences students of diverse opinions--no matter what those are. College campuses should be places where a broad range of ideas are expressed. I try very hard in my classroom to ensure that climate of free expression is promoted.

Books like Horowitz's, though, work to stifle a diverse conversational environment by promoting a climate of fear. Such a toxic climate breeds suppression of diverse perspectives, and hightens sensitivities to the point where false claims of bias are more likely to be expressed.

In such an environment of fear, everyone loses.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Global Media and Women

I discovered a fascinating project that measures one days worth of news content in as many countries as possible to see if and how women are portrayed in the news, and whether women are writing and anchoring the news.

The Global Media Monitoring Project released its report on its analysis of one day in 2005. It also has data from 1995 and 2000.

In the executive summary, they found that in the 76 countries they studied, women are still under-represented. Only 21% of the news was about women. This is up from 1995 (17%) and 2000 (18%), but still indicates that women are not featured as actors in society at the same rate that men are. In no topic do women outnumber men as newsmakers, but when women are present they are likely to be either celebrities or victims rather than ordinary people, and they are very rarely experts or spokespeople. As in prior studies older women who report the news on television are very rare, while male anchors and reports are likely to be shown reporting in their 50s and 60s.

The authors write:

Blatant stereotyping is alive and well in news reporting around the world. Nor is it limited to the gratuitous display of female flesh - although there are plenty of examples of this. Sexist reporting extends to a very wide range of stories - including sport, crime, violence, and even politics.

This report coupled with the news about the South Dakota abortion ban causes me to think that women need to join together again in the United States (and globally) to push a fourth wave of feminism.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Say F$%! and get Fired

I feel a lot like swearing these days. But, if I do so in class, it seems I now risk being suspended.

An assistant professor at the Lancaster Branch of Harrisburg Area Community College said "fuck" in class and was suspended for it. (Read about it in Inside Higher Ed). It should be noted that he seemed to be a well-liked professor, too, without any other strikes on his record.

To my mind, it is ludicrous to suspend a faculty member for swearing--especially if the swearing wasn't directed at a student. I've sworn on occassion in class. It's just part of my style, and to poke fun at silly "shit" that is happening out there in the world.

Maybe I'll start an activist organization to protect my colleagues: Foul-Mouthed Faculty Fight Back!

Monday, March 06, 2006

South Dakota Bans Abortion

Much to my frustration, today Governor Rounds of South Dakota signed into law a state-wide ban on access to abortion except in the event that the woman's life is in jeopardy. The law would make it a felony for any doctor to perform an abortion except as a life-saving measure. The law does not ban the use of Plan B or Morning After contraception at least in the event of a woman seeking medical attention after a rape (giving Plan B is a common procedure for any woman who seeks medical attention after a rape). It's not clear whether a woman who knew she was pregnant could legally use the drug.

The law is set to take effect in June, although Governor Round explained that he did not expect it to be enacted, as Planned Parenthood has vowed to fight the law.

The legislature passed the law with the intention of having it go before the U.S. Supreme Court. Now that the court has two new jurists with conservative leanings (Alito and Roberts), the South Dakota Legislature hopes that their law will create the opportunity for the Supreme Court to overturn the precedent of Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 law that granted women the right to access abortion legally.

I should note that Governor Rounds also signed another bill today that would create a fund for private donors to help pay for the legal battle ahead. The law would not require a public disclosure of who is paying the tab for the legal battle.

It's fair to say that I am pissed off. I am appauled by the actions of the overwhelmingly-male legislature (there are 3 women out of 35 Senators, and 13 out of 70 House members; None of the women Senators were sponsors of the bill, and only 6 of the 9 Republican House members were co-sponsors by my count). I must confess that I really hate it when men legislate what women can and cannot do with their bodies.

When I was growing up in S.D., the culture was very much a "keep government out of my business." It seems that in the time I've been gone, extremist Christians have taken over the Legislature in South Dakota and turned it into a zealot's dream. I'm infuriated at South Dakotans failure to pay attention to whom they are electing.

Of course, this wouldn't be an issue if Democrats had won back the Senate in 2004 or taken back the White House. The number of swing voters I've met in my neck of the woods who told me during that election that they were voting for Bush because he had moved the war on terrorism to "their" soil and felt that we should stay that course are now telling me that they wish they hadn't voted for Bush and that we should just pull out of Iraq and leave them to their own defenses.

I just want to shake them.

The Solomon Amendment Decided

Recall in the fall I blogged about a campus discussion about the Solomon Amendment, a law that requires college campuses to allow military recruiters onto campus, even though the military violates equal opportunity employment laws in its discrimination of gays and lesbians. Failure to give the military equal access to students (in the same way it gives access to other employers) would mean the loss of all federal funding to that institution (most of which comes in the form of research grants to faculty).

The Supreme Court ruled today 8 to 0 today that the Amendment is legal (Alito did not participate in this matter, since he joined the court after oral arguments). Military recruiters are free to associate with the campus just as faculty are free to express their disapproval of the military's hiring practices.