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Member since: Wed Jul 24, 2013, 12:10 PM
Number of posts: 2,340

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about that comment I posted last Thursday.

I commented about an event sponsored by the Young Americans for Freedom that happened in my department's building.

Upon reflection, I shouldn't have used disparaging language against students at my own institution. I regret that.

(Not saying I like what the organization stands for - only that I crossed a line when I spoke about the members themselves. I've got an ethical duty to avoid doing that.)

the end of runaway selection?

In a few previous posts, I've compared modern Republican politics with the biological phenomenon of "runaway selection," in which features found to be highly desirable by potential mates evolve with great speed, often resulting in features that would be detrimental if not for their attractiveness. (Simple example - peacock tail feathers. Without them, peacocks run faster and fly more efficiently. But they're not as attractive to peahens and thus don't contribute to the next generation's gene pool.)

There comes a point at which the detrimental impact of a display structure exceeds any selective benefit it imparts on the bearer. Peacock feathers can only get so long before the birds are unable to live long enough to mate.

If one considers the evolution of the Republican Party since Reagan, we've seen an accelerating move toward increasingly extreme right-wing positions. It was no longer enough to be a mere conservative - a candidate had to be way more conservative than any primary challenger. The central selective pressure for this came from right-wing echo chambers, first on the AM radio band and later on social media.

I've been waiting for the tipping point - the point at which Republicans would find it impossible to win a primary without appealing to an increasingly extreme base, but equally impossible to win a general election with the kinds of views needed to appeal to that base.

I honestly hoped we'd hit that in 2018 with Democratic victories in the midterms, only for that hope to be dashed by Trump's performance in the 2020 election. (He lost, but not as badly as he should have.)

I then hoped it would be hit following the January 6 insurrection. People could see red-hatters who appeared to be afflicted with rabies storming the capitol. They could see the former president living in La-La land. But the fact that so many Congressional Republicans refused to hold TFG accountable again sank my dreams.

I don't think we're at that tipping point yet, but the absence of a real red tide following yesterday's election fills me with hope that it might start to appear in 2024.

Trump isn't going to shut up. Republicans who want to challenge him will have to appeal to his base. But that means open rejection of physical reality and acceptance of abhorrent policies that, even six years ago, would have been dismissed as too fringe for national discussion.

The Republican base is starting to cause Republican candidates to lose elections. This looks promising.

Please let it be so.

out of curiosity -

Has anyone looked at recent American history textbooks? The ones used for high school and undergraduate classes?

I'm really curious how they treat anything that happened after 2016.

Alex Jones - what comes next?

I'm hoping someone with far more legal education than me can help me -

What comes next? Does he start paying these families right away? Or maybe try to resist making payments he's supposed to make right away? Or will there be appeals before he pays anything?

I suspect the failed stand-up comedians who represented him in court will try whatever they can, but if they're as successful with that as they were with the damages hearings, I can't imagine their efforts will last very long.

advice for parents from a college professor

A few weeks ago, I posted an open letter to new college students with some advice from my perspective as a professor.

Because of some interactions Iíve had since classes began (not on DU), itís become clear that some parents could also use some advice.

1. No Ė I canít tell you how your child is doing in my class.

Thereís this thing called the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA. Itís federal law, and it means that unless your child is under the age of 18, and with few exceptions, I cannot divulge educational records to anyone off campus without written permission from your child.

I can get fired if I do so.

Yes, there are other people you can contact. Thereís the head of my department, for example, or our departmentís director of undergraduate studies. Thereís the dean of my college and the associate dean for undergrad affairs. Your student presumably has an advisor, either in the department of his or her major or through the advising center. You could even take it up to the provostís office or the institutionís legal counsel. But theyíll tell you the same thing.

That youíre paying your childís tuition does not, and cannot, enter into any decision I might make to divulge information. (And yes Ė I know how much youíre paying. I work here.)

Youíre concerned that your child isnít telling you anything? That might indeed be a problem, but itís not something I can do anything about.

There may be exceptions if your child is experiencing some sort of mental health crisis. I might be able to share student progress with parents/guardians, therapists, or psychiatrists if thatís going on. But Iíd do some serious research on my obligations before doing so. Iím not a lawyer, so Iíd reach out to university counsel and my dean before acting.

Also Ė this hasnít happened to me very much, and not recently, but do you realize how pathetic it looks when a parent begs a childís college instructors for better grades?

2. I say this to students as well: when it comes to exams, quizzes, and assignments, we instructors accommodate need Ė not convenience.

The ďneedĒ category includes a studentís illness or injury; a dependentís illness or injury; a family emergency, such as a funeral or a close relativeís heart attack; a court date; a job interview; a military obligation; another university-related obligation, such as a mandatory field trip; a transportation problem; a computer problem (if the exam is taken online); or a family event that was scheduled long in advance, especially if Iím notified of it right after classes begin.

We also accommodate physical conditions that might impair a studentís ability to take an exam as scheduled Ė visual impairment, ADHD, dyslexia, and so on. Thereís an office on campus that manages such accommodations.

Almost everything else falls under ďconvenience.Ē

That you already bought the plane tickets on the day your child is scheduled to take an exam is unfortunate, but unless itís for a real emergency (e.g. funeral) or a milestone event that was (a) planned before classes began and (b)made known to me early in the semester, Iím not inclined to accommodate your child.

Yes, I know air fares vary depending on the date of departure or return. No, I canít accommodate your child because cheaper flights conflict with a classroom obligation.

I wish I had a nickel for every time Iíve been told that I have to accommodate a student because an event had to be scheduled to avoid conflicts with everyone elseís work obligations. As far as Iím concerned, work obligations donít necessarily have right of way over academic obligations.

Your best bet? Your child got a syllabus for each of their classes on the first day of the term. It specifies when exams will take place, and it may state the deadlines for term papers or other deliverables. Take them into consideration when scheduling some sort of event, and donít assume that your child can be accommodated.

Sorry if this sounds strident, but I've had some difficult exchanges with parents in recent weeks.

Starting college? Your kid is starting college? Some unrequested advice from a professor.

Classes are starting up across the country. I've posted some of this before, but I've been told (perhaps falsely) that it's useful, so here it is again:

As some of you know, I teach at a university. This includes a large-enrollment class for non-science majors in the fall and more advanced classes in the spring.

Being a first-year student is exhilarating! So many paths to choose! So many opportunities to make a real difference! So much freedom for self-assertion! So much to drink at after-game parties! Youíre stepping forward not as adolesents, but as adults, and youíre taking more control over your personal time and direction.

But it can also be terrifying. You might be far from home for the first time. You might be the first member of your family to attend college. You might have been a stand-out in high school, but now you're surrounded by other stand-outs from other high schools. It's intimidating. You don't have Mom and/or Dad to keep your nose to the grindstone, and some aspects of being a college student - enrolling in classes, for example - are downright labyrinthine. And if you're a student of color or a member of the LGBTQ community, you'll be facing residual bigotry that lingers in spite of everything we're doing to combat it.

And thereís the cost. You may have already gone to buy your textbooks. Itís not like buying a few paperback novels. One can buy a functioning used car for the cost of a semesterís textbooks. Meals? Rent and utilities, if youíre not in a dorm? Thatís all on you now.

Youíve probably been told that we professors donít care about you. But you know what? We do. We really do. We wouldnít be in this line of work if we didnít. And we understand what youíre going through, because weíve all been there, and times havenít changed so much that we canít help guide you through this massive transition.

In fact, seeing you through all of this is part of our job, and itís a privilege to take it on.

Thus, Iíve compiled some advice over the past few years that might help you as you get ready to dive in:

1. Be careful with assumptions, and always ask before acting. Exceptions can't always be made.

During the pandemic, I would get emails from incoming students to confirm that the lectures for my class were being recorded. I always responded that although my lectures were on-line (which I hated), they werenít pre-recorded. They were ďsynchronous,Ē meaning one had to watch the lecture at the scheduled time, just as if they were attending the lecture in an auditorium

This would be followed by a request for accommodation because the student had another commitment when lecture was scheduled to take place.

In other words, the student had enrolled in a course they couldnít actually attend, and they wanted me to change my procedures to match their faulty assumption.

I've encountered all kinds of bad assumptions. You can take a quiz late, even though I said there wouldn't be make-ups? That weíll always accommodate requests for a makeup (see below)? That the exam will look exactly as you imagined? Bad assumptions. And so it goes.

My ex used to teach a lab that met on Fridays at 4:30. There were quizzes every week. During the first week of class, she had to tell her students that "My parents already paid for the plane ticket " would not be accepted as a reason to miss lab on the Friday before Thanksgiving break.
Not sure whether something will be allowed? Unsure if youíre facing a situation that calls for an exception to course policy? Please, for the love of whatever deities may or may not exist Ė ask! Weíd rather work with you before something happens than after.

ďItís easier to get forgiveness than permissionĒ is a nice quip, but itís false.

2. Keep your life as simple as possible.

Extracurricular activities expand your horizons and can help you find a community far from home. They can be of tremendous benefit to your mental health. It is, however, easy to get roped in too deeply, especially when youíre just starting out. Overloading yourself with such things reduces the amount of time you have for your homework and studying.

This is why I encourage on-campus living when it's available for first-year students. It keeps life simple.

I'm not saying one should live a monastic existence and ignore the rest of the world. But you'll still be getting your footing during your first year, so don't overdo it.

3. Save everything.

I once had a student approach me after classes were over, wondering why she got a C in my class. She was sure she'd be in solid B range. I pointed out that her final exam and one of her midterms were indeed in the 80's, but her other midterm was a 38. That, I explained, dragged her grade down. "But I didn't get a 38," she replied, "I got an 83!" She showed me her exam, and sure enough, she did. The moron (most likely me) who entered the grades into the spreadsheet typed them in backward. It happens, and mistakes like this are easily corrected - and this is made easier if you can show your professor what you actually got.

Seriously - treat your homework assignments, quizzes, exams, and whatnot like receipts.

4. Keep your family posted about your classroom commitments.

If someone's planning a family event, it wouldn't hurt if they knew when your exams are scheduled. As detailed below, we cannot always make scheduling accommodations.

5. Always contact an instructor before missing something. Always get some sort of proof for the reason. And bear in mind Ė we canít accommodate everything.

Here are some things we can accommodate: illness (psychiatric/mental or physical); family emergencies (funerals or sudden very severe medical incidents or accidents); court date or jury duty; family event planned long in advance (e.g. wedding), provided we're notified well before the exam; job interview; transportation problems (e.g. missed bus, car broke down); conflicting institution-related event (e.g. sports, marching band, ROTC, or a required field trip for another class); computer problems (if the exam is online); work schedule conflict (though if it happens frequently, it might be good to take a different class or get a different job).

Here are some things we generally either can't or won't: oversleeping; routine as opposed to milestone family event (e.g. I'll accommodate you for your grandmother's 100th birthday party, but not your cousin's 8th); you missed a bunch of class, but haven't made an effort to speak to me or borrow someone's notes until minutes before or some time after the exam; not feeling ready and wanting extra time; travel preference (e.g. wanting to take a test early because it's scheduled late in finals week or right before Thanksgiving/Spring break and you want to get out of town).

Bottom line - we accommodate need, not convenience.

Getting a doctor's note for an illness is easy enough, but it should be possible to document pretty much any good reason to miss class - including a funeral. I, for one, would never ask for documentation for a funeral, but I know professors who do - and generally, it's not all that hard to get. If you can't bring in an obituary, most funeral homes and houses of worship are willing to provide a letter acknowledging your presence at a funeral service at their facility. (These used to be necessary when airlines offered lower "bereavement" rates for last-minute travel.)

And before I'm attacked for being hard-ass, please bear in mind - arranging a make-up exam really is an imposition. On our campus, instructors are responsible for scheduling exams for students who need an accommodation, such as extended time or a low-distraction environment, for a learning disability Ė and 5 or 10 percent of the class may fall in this category. For a class of 200, that's 10 or 20 students who need accommodation. And that's on top of those who were bridesmaids, got sick, or had a family emergency. Every request for a makeup is a request to find a 1 or 2 hour slot that works for your busy schedule as well as mine, and depending on circumstances, it might require finding a time that hasnít already been taken by another student wanting an accommodation. If you actually need the accommodation, no problem Ė thatís my job and responsibility. If itís for a non-essential reason, youíll have to make a strong case.

6. Get to know your instructors.

This is arguably more important later in your college career, but it doesn't hurt stop by during office hours. That's what they're for.

This is good not only because you'll understand the material better by asking questions early and often, but because it helps us get to know you. Believe me - it's a lot easier to write a letter of recommendation if I know something about the student beyond his or her exam scores.

Students who come to know their professors tend to be asked to participate in research or creative projects. That looks really good on your resume, and it makes you better at what you do anyway. It also reduces feelings of isolation. We professors are no longer the terrifying, impersonal authorities who look down on our students - we're people.

7. Know when to pull back.

Life happens.

A lot of students encounter mental or emotional problems they may not have anticipated, or the problems they already have might be exacerbated. You might feel isolated on campus. You might be overwhelmed with difficult classes. You may be trying to balance your classes with a job or the needs of a small child. Your financial situation may change. You, or a loved one, may be facing a very serious physical illness that requires much of your attention.

Sometimes, the best solution is to cut back on your classes. Staying in for the sake of completing the semester might be counterproductive if you fail everything. Do you want to graduate on time, or with a respectable GPA? Sometimes, these are mutually incompatible.

I'm not saying you should just drop out of school when things get tough. It's always going to be difficult. Besides, dropping below a certain number of credit hours can jeopardize your financial aid. But in consultation with academic advisors and perhaps a mental health professional, dropping one or two courses might not always be a bad idea.

8. Know when to ask for help, and find out where it can be found.

We get it. All of us were students, and many of us needed help at times. That includes me.

There is no dishonor in asking for help, and there are places to find it. Most campuses have some sort of student counseling center - that, or they'll have resources to help you find a professional counselor. They're not there as window dressing - they're there because people need them.

Creating a sense of belonging can go a long way toward alleviating some of the pressure and stress of being a first-year college student. This is why I advise against overdoing it with extracurricular activities - not against avoiding them altogether.

This was especially true during the pandemic. Usually, out of a group of 200, Iíll get one or two reaching out to tell me they've missed some assignments because they're having a rough time. In 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, the presidential election, and social unrest, it was more like 15 or 20 of them. Some were students of color who felt the pressure of racism like never before. Others were failing to thrive academically in the on-line system imposed on us by the pandemic. It was bad.

Always bear this in mind: weíve been there. And even if was in past decades, things haven't changed so much that we cannot understand your situation. In fact, we've been front-and-center in the decisions that made things different. So we still get it.

Personally, as a white, cis-gender, heterosexual, nominally Christian male whoís never been the victim of a serious crime, there are some issues I canít address with any real authority Ė but others on campus can. Some of us are sexual assault survivors, or have experienced racism or bigotry in some form. Others, myself included, know what it means to live with poverty or food insecurity. Weíve been through major relationship breakups. Weíve lived through serious illnesses and injuries. Weíve cared for chronically ill relatives and had loved ones die unexpectedly. We know what these do to a person. Weíre as human as you are, and we can listen. We can advise, or we can tell you who can.

As I said previously Ė we do this because itís who we are. We embrace the whole of the academic profession, and that includes mentorship of our students. We take our jobs as a matter of pride, and if one of our students is struggling, we want to know so we can help.

Seriously Ė ask us. Weíll tell you.

And all the best for your new adventure. Itís intimidating, but having been through it, I wouldnít trade the experience for anything.

not sure if this has been discussed around here -

I attended a professional meeting in another country last week.

At one point, I was having breakfast with a good friend and colleague who works in another state - a state in which the right to abortion is now sharply limited.

According to my friend, admissions staff at his university are starting to see a real impact on the applicant pool.

It's a large, public research university whose students are drawn primarily from that state, but it's prestigious enough that quite a few students from other states (and from abroad) go there.

They're seeing a sizable number of women from states without limited abortion access withdraw their applications. There's a surprisingly large number of women from in-state doing the same thing, hoping to apply for schools where their reproductive rights aren't under such acute assault.

I sent an email to some administrators at my university. Our state doesn't ban abortion yet, but it almost certainly will in the very near future. And like my friend's institution, ours attracts applicants from out of state - mostly from a neighboring state that isn't going to be banning abortion any time soon.

I don't know if this will be a problem at my university, but I can easily see how it might be.

I've wondered about what laws banning reproductive health care would do for companies that hire highly-educated women from across the country. I also wondered what would happen to our efforts to recruit high-end applicants for faculty openings, though our budget is so tight right now, there aren't many such openings. It didn't occur to me that this would impact the demographics of college admissions - and to my shame, I have to admit that it should have.

Anyone else in academia noticing anything like this?

We should call "it just sends it to the states" what it is -

An attempt by (mostly) men who helped put these ignorant Federalist Society knobs to absolve themselves from their own responsibility for having caused millions of women to lose a big part of their health care.

Itís like a prosecutor blaming the jury for a wrongful conviction based on the prosecutorís misconduct. ďI didnít convict that person - the jury did. All I did was present my case.Ē

ďI didnít ban abortion. Your stateís legislature did that. All I did was vote for the senators and presidents who stacked the Supreme Court with the foolish, dishonest ideologues who allowed your state legislature to do so. See? Not my fault.Ē

Do you know who's utimately responsible for our current situation?

Gerald Ford.


He pardoned Nixon. That opened the door for nearly every really serious scandal to hit the Executive Branch that came after his administration.

Iran-Contra? Invasion of Iraq? Worse than Watergate. Thousands died because of them. And neither might have happened had those in charge thought real consequences were a possibility. Rather than learn from the scorn Nixon faced after his resignation, they learned to hide their tracks better, and they learned that even if caught, they could blame underlings and knew no one would really hold them accountable because it would "divide the country."

As much as I loved Barack Obama as president, I will never forgive him for his decision to "look forward" and not hold the higher-ups in the Jr Administration accountable for the invasion of Iraq, for its grotesque mismanagement, and for decisions that allowed men and women in US uniform to torture people. He really dropped the ball on that.

But perhaps he listened to the faux historians who claimed Ford "healed the nation" by pardoning Nixon.

Ford did not heal the nation. He gave us a placebo. He didn't lance the boil; he merely put a smiley-face bandage on it. It festered. It went septic. It was fed by the self-sustaining bacterial feedback loop of right-wing talk radio, right-wing hyperpartisan Republicans, evangelicals, and the centrality that ignoring physical reality was taking among conservatives. Hundreds of thousands died in Nicaragua, Iraq, and elsewhere around the world because of this.

For extended periods, people in other countries could only shake their heads in disbelief as a country that gave the world so much - the Apollo landings, jazz, rock, the ice cream cone, the Jedi knight - elected people who gave every appearance of being illiterate to head its government. The disbelief I encountered while travelling abroad during the GWB administration became downright disdain when TFG came to office. Many expressed sympathy, but many more just stayed away from me, as though I carried something contagious from the red-hatters who simply would not see reality.

I don't know that the prosecution of Richard Nixon would have solved all of our problems, but I am nonetheless firm in my opinion that we would have avoided many of the scandals that brought dishonor to this country.

we need a constitutional amendment curtailing the presidential pardon

I highly doubt the framers of the constitution considered the possibility that someone might ask for a pre-emptive pardon, much less the possibility that we'd have such an appalling president who might actually consider issuing them.

Presidents should not be allowed to pardon members of their own families or their own administrations. Future presidents may be enabled to do this, but sitting presidents should be blocked from issuing pardons if there's any sort of conflict of interest.

That presidents shouldn't be allowed to pardon themselves should go without saying, but the fact that some Republicans were talking about it as if it might not only be possible, but a good idea, means we have to formalize it in the Constitution.

Presidents should also not be allowed to issue pardons if the crime would have benefitted the president's own administration or the president as an individual. Ford's pardon of Nixon was an abomination that gave the illusion of healing the nation while enabling future scandal-minded presidents to commit crimes with no accountability. It also benefitted Ford himself, as he was a member of the Nixon administration. Killing the process before it really got underway allowed Ford to minimize the the impact of Watergate during the 1976 election.

(In fact, I go back and forth in my head whether sitting presidents should even be allowed to pardon their immediate predecessor - or if they can, it should involve additional steps to make it harder. I have no problem with a president pardoning the person he or she replaced for a minor offense committed as a juvenile, but not something done to subvert democracy.)

Iran-Contra? The invasion of Iraq? Pretty much everything the hairy orange organism living on TFG's head tried to pull? All of which were, in my opinion, worse than Watergate? They might not have happened - or they'd have been much harder to pull off, anyway - if Nixon had been held accountable.
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