Monday, July 28, 2008

Looking for tips

I'm going to be in DC and I'll have one day all to myself. The next day I'll be doing some sort of touristy stuff with a friend. Last time I was in DC, we did the "walk around the mall" thing and visited the Smithsonian museum of arts and industry.

So there are a lot of places left that I haven't seen. In fact, the choices are rather overwhelming. Anyone have suggestions for what the must-see attractions are? Or for attractions that are a little unusual and not quite overrun with people? (I'll be getting around by Metro and on foot.)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Honey Creek hike

Stepping carefully
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
Yesterday I went on a trip with the hiking group to Honey Creek in Big South Fork.

The day started off in a hurry - for the second morning in a row, my alarm didn't go off. I woke up naturally at 6:16 with an ETD of 6:30. There was no time for a shower; there was barely time to brush my teeth. Smartly, I had packed the night before, so I just had to throw together a sandwich before dashing out the door.

I discovered at that point that it had been raining in the night, and although it wasn't precipitating at the moment it didn't look to be over. I wondered if the hike might be canceled. Surprisingly, almost everyone showed up and no one wanted to back out.

Honey Creek has a reputation as one of the nicest hikes in the area. You probably can't tell that from my photos, because the weather made it very difficult to get good shots. The flash reflected against the humid air and took pictures of the mist and nothing else, while I couldn't hold the camera still enough with the flash off. I took 72 pictures. After deleting the ones that were blurry or nothing but mist, I was left with 39. Many of those just weren't good photos, and I only posted 18. My shots from the overlook came out quite nicely, but this is the rare hike where the journey is as nice as the destination. There were waterfalls, caves, rhododendrons, creeks, ladders, scenic views, enormous boulders, towering cliffs, and rivers. What more do you want?

I can't give you the usual stats for distance, etc. The National Park Service-provided map said it was just shy of six miles. A fellow hiker GPSed it at 8 miles. An outdoors website that uses GPS data said it was 4.61 with elevation gain of around 2,700 feet. My watch said the gain was less than 1,300. So it's a mystery. However, the terrain made for very slow going, as there were a lot of slippery rocks and roots; it took the full five hours suggested by the NPS.

Not to mention that there is a lot of stopping just to look around and admire!

P.S. Also check out Kelly's pictures. For one, they prove I was actually there, and for another, he includes video.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Vegetables are taking over

Another light soup
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
I made cabbage soup today for lunch. Now I have seven servings of cabbage soup in the freezer, and they won't be going anywhere fast - I have enough fresh vegetables to eat. That includes two more heads of cabbage. I am not making 16 more servings of cabbage soup because then there will be no room at all in my freezer for anything else. Also, I am not making sauerkraut. Ideas? I need ones that use cabbage in bulk - no rolling things in cabbage leaves.

Tonight for dinner: succotash. On tomorrow's cooking agenda: zucchini bread, except it'll be yellow squash bread. Maybe I'll try the zucchini-banana bread recipe I found. Maybe I'll cook some kale.

Testing Google Maps walking directions

Google Maps has added walking directions. It's a great idea, but it definitely deserves their "beta" designation.

To test it, I asked it for directions from somewhere vaguely near my house to Shelby Park, and it came up with six possible locations for the latter. You can see the result for the location I chose here. Google Maps and Mapquest are both very sketchy about the park. For example, Google shows the nature center in the wrong place. You can drag endpoints, but if I was actually looking for directions, presumably I wouldn't know the location was wrong. Moreover, you can only drag it to what Google recognizes as a street, not to where the center actually is. The map doesn't show all the park roads, including a major entrance off where Lillian dead-ends into the park and the parking lot for the nature center.

The biggest drawback is that Google Maps still relies on roads only. It's smart enough to know you can walk on one-way streets, but it doesn't know anything about non-motorized paths. There is a trail from the dog park (not shown, but it's where Lillian dead-ends) that runs into the park. The greenway isn't shown, nor is the new pedestrian bridge across the river to the Stones River greenway. The upshot is that the path it show me is more direct than it driving path it shows, but it's still not the fastest way to get there.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

July to-do list

  • Finish state governance changes report by Friday
  • Renew AERA membership
  • Submit research proposal to AERA
  • Revise and resubmit journal article
  • Revise co-authored article so we can send it out to a journal
  • Revise lit review and send to advisor
  • Write up cycle 2 of teaching certificate
  • Cook some of my CSA vegetables
  • See a man about a horse
  • Continue to work on dissertation

Sunday, July 20, 2008

North Chickamauga hike

Nice view
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
Yesterday we hiked the North Chickamauga trail near Chattanooga. It was formerly owned by Bowater, a paper company that developed some of its land into "pocket wildernesses," before Bowater donated it to the state to make up part of the Cumberland Trail.

The trail starts off at the level of North Chickamauga Creek and heads very steeply up. Then the elevation moderates, and the trail rolls gently up and down for a bit, while scenic bluffs line the right side of the trail. A ladder climbs up the bluffs and the trail truly levels off on an old mining road. Then there is another ladder, going back down, and the trail loses all the elevation it gained to get back down to the creek and a swimming hole. The trail continues on .5 miles further to a campsite, but we stopped at the swimming hole.

For some reason we found this trip to be more difficult than anticipated. My guidebook and an old map say that the trail is 3.9 miles to the campsite; the sign at the trailhead says it's 4.5. The guidebook also says it gains about 700 feet of elevation one way, while my altimeter said it was over 900. But none of these figures make it more difficult than the Walls of Jericho hike of a few weeks ago, yet it felt much harder. Perhaps it's because the elevation gain is concentrated in two very steep climbs. (I should say three of the four of us found it difficult; the college athlete/summertime trail worker had no difficulty at all.)

It didn't help that there were a lot of yellow jackets out. Aimee was stung three times and Joe twice. They really seemed drawn to Aimee, and Joe was stung when he was near her.

Despite this, it was a beautiful hike. It probably would be beautiful in every season. Now in the summer, it's lush and the swimming hole is very refreshing. In fall the colors would be out, and in winter, with the leaves gone, the views would be amazing. I'm sure there are wildflowers in spring, and the waterfalls would also be much more impressive.

If you want more pictures, you can see Joe's here, and mine by clicking on the photo at left.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Today, you can learn something new

I have my laptop back - far earlier than I was anticipating it. In celebration, I offer you a random history of higher education tidbit. It's a bit of academic history that seems to never have received its share of scholarly attention. Seriously, this would be prime material for a historian in this field, but alas I am not one.

Remember the good old days when women went to "finishing school"? I was wondering about finishing schools, specifically, whatever happened to them? You never hear them mentioned by name. Did they close? Turn into "real" colleges? I finally got curious enough to do some searching around.

Wikipedia tells us that American finishing schools were primarily on the East Coast and included the Seven Sisters. There's one more reason not to trust Wikipedia: Finishing schools were distinguished in part by not offering baccalaureate degrees, or by offering no degrees at all, while the Seven Sisters were pioneers in offering education to women equal to that of men. But I couldn't find any article willing to name names, at least for American institutions; there were and are finishing schools in Europe. Finally I found a 1924 article from the American Journal of Sociology comparing marriage rates for Vassar grads to those of finishing and preparatory school grads. It named the five comparison schools:
  • Lasell Seminary for Young Women: Now a co-ed baccalaureate-granting institution, but it didn't become one until the 1980s. It didn't even offer associates degrees until the 1940s. Its degrees are vocationally oriented.
  • Brearley School: Sounded familiar. This would have qualified as a prep school rather than a finishing school; today it is still an elite private school for girls.
  • Ossining School: Can't find anything on it, which suggests it is now closed. Presumably it was in Ossining, New York.
  • Bennett School: Transformed from a two-year to a four-year school and became a victim of the 1970s. (During this decade a lot of private colleges closed. In fact, the policy wonks were worried it was the end of private higher ed.)
  • Dana Hall: This name I knew because children's author Cynthia Voigt graduated from there. It remains an elite boarding school for girls.

The upshot of this is that only Lasell and Bennett were actually finishing schools - although we can't tell about Ossining.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Job posting

Morgan State University, open rank with specialization in student affairs. (Morgan State is a public HBCU in Baltimore.)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Qualitative research pays less

See the post here. (Note that this is extrapolated from assumptions, not based on something like a salary survey.)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Well, I have a couple of deep, insightful type of posts half written that won't get posted for a while. Last week ended up being a little crazy. Then yesterday afternoon, my iBook's screen died. I have to take it in Monday - the days when you could get a walk-up Genius Bar appointment are long gone. (I don't understand why they don't do triage, or allow someone to pay extra for an immediate visit. For a lot of us not having a computer almost stops our work in its tracks - it's not like when I needed to have a key replaced a couple of weeks ago, or even like an iPod breaking.) In any case I am now sadly unplugged once again.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Job posting

Penn State: Open Rank, tenure-track faculty position in Higher Education (Specialization open).

Background info: Penn State has the top-ranked program in higher ed. An open-rank, open-specialization search usually means a department is not trying to fill a gap (i.e., their community college guy retired and they want to replace him) but that they're looking for the absolute most promising candidate out there, be it a newbie or a tenured star. Now search committees aren't silly; they know that a newbie can't have the same record as a full professor. They don't stack them up against each other but against the pool of similar people - that is, would this person be in the 99th percentile compared to those with similar time and experience?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Concentration of higher ed, Part II: Proximity doesn't automatically produce synergy

(Before I get to this, Smanda has weighed in with some interesting points in response to the first part about how distance education can affect the location of colleges. Scroll down and check it out.)

I know I promised a post on the benefits of colleges working together, but before I get to that, I have another downer post. Even when colleges are geographically positioned to cooperate, and it's in their best interests, they often don't. Of course, sometimes colleges act against their own interests for stupid reasons, like inertia or pride - but it's not always cupidity or stupidity. There's nothing mysterious about this, no conspiracy, just human nature and its organizational equivalent, red tape. Let me give you a specific example.

My sister is a seminarian. Her institution (we'll call it #1) is fortunate enough to be located in a major urban area, in the same neighborhood as one of the nation's elite universities. Right next door to her seminary is another one of a different denomination (#2), and both belong to a city-wide consortium of seminaries. As you may know, seminaries in general are having financial difficulties these days. Costs are rising, their fundraising is minimal, the mainline churches supporting them don't have much more money because they're shrinking, and the alumni aren't in a position to give much back in the way of donations. Moreover, seminaries tend to be below optimally efficient size, and they can't cross-subsidize programs with lucrative new programs, since they have narrowly defined missions.

Under these circumstances, consortia and cost-sharing agreements are a brilliant idea. The trouble is implementing them.

For example, #1 and #2 share a bookstore. This makes excellent sense. But other efficiencies are limited by church policy. You can't run a student health clinic efficiently at that size institution; the obvious solution would be for #1 to pay the major elite institution for access to its clinic. Unfortunately, the church body doesn't allow this, because not all of its seminaries can do this, and they want them to be "equal." (Of course, they're not truly equal now. The one in a rural Midwestern area obviously has fewer local possibilities for internship-type experiences, for example; the urban seminary charges higher rents.) Mandating equality tends to level down, not up.

But if the problems were just caused by these school's denominational affiliations, it would be a problem peculiar to seminaries, and it's not.

For example, there are savings that could be implemented consortia-wide rather than denomination-wide. Right now every school in the area has its own email system and servers. Surely a joint IT department would be cheaper, and it would solve problems such as a server going down and there not being staff on-call to get it back up! Email is not a mission-central core function, so outsourcing it would not be like outsourcing teaching. IT issues are the sort of problem that plague very small schools of any type, not just seminaries, yet cooperative agreements tend to be out of their financial reach because they are broke. They'd have to spend money now to save it later, but they don't have it now.

They're not far different from grad students. Frequently it would be cheaper for me to buy the economy size, or the one-year yoga package, or the bicycle to save on gas, etc. But I can't get up the cash required for the initial investment, and credit card interest rates would negate the savings. Schools that need cooperation the most are in the same boat.

I'm hating Merrell even more

New ad: "Capsizing in class 4 whitewater and getting back in the boat made for a great water-cooler chat on Monday"

Because you don't do your hobbies for intrinsic enjoyment, but to impress other people. I picture this dude (you know it's a guy) as Drew from Office Space bragging about how he "bagged some class 4" over the weekend while everyone else just waits for him to shut up.

Not buying Merrell products. Ever.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Should higher education be more concentrated?

I started to reply to a comment Jaya left the other day, but my response got out of control length-wise, and I figured it should be its own post. She wondered about the possibility that someday, colleges might relocate so that there would be more schools geographically proximate to each other, which would offer some obvious benefits.

I don't think so, for a few reasons.

One, of course, moving itself is enormously expensive. Long-term, a new location might be cheaper, but schools would have some difficulty getting the money together in the short term. Sufficient incentive may overcome this, but remember that after Katrina, the one thing none of the area colleges did was consider relocating, despite the virtual certainty the another flood will happen again someday. I do know of one school that is relocating in the near future, but from an urban area to a more suburban/rural one - getting farther from its neighbors, not closer. The cost barrier was overcome in this case because its present location is now primo real estate.

Two, most colleges are extremely regional. The best predictor of whether a student goes to college is how close he/she is to one, and the best predictor of which one a student goes to is again location. The subset of schools this is most true of are also the most penny-pinched. Elite schools with a national reach and the students that attend them are an unusual (and small) segment of the educational marketplace. Princeton, for example, is not tied to its region, but it also can afford to stay in New Jersey. Community colleges in particular exist to serve a particular community, not even an entire region. College-access advocates would have a fit if colleges were moved away from local constituents to where other schools already exist, leaving a pool of students without a nearby institution. Of course, one can easily debate the power your average educational pundit has!

Three, most politicians would be opposed to a college in their district relocating. State reps would object to moving their local colleges elsewhere, because they are a key producer of jobs and state revenue for the area. (Even those congressmen who aren't so keen on providing the funding.) Moreover, the cities that would receive the institutions wouldn't be happy, either. Cities that have a large concentration of nonprofits (including colleges) have been increasingly complaining about the reduction in property taxes that results. (PILOTs, or payments in lieu of taxes, are becoming more common.) A city that already has several institutions of higher education isn't likely to think that one more will be a major engine of economic growth.

Now, note that I don't believe all these arguments are socially good ones. I think the access argument is, but the one about costs is not - it's just a reflection of the way things tend to work, not how they ought to. There are considerable benefits to informal synergy and formal consortia; the model of the Claremont colleges ought to be more widely replicated, I believe.

The overall tone of this post is a big "no, not gonna happen," but that's not because I don't believe there are benefits to co-location. (I'm definitely anti-sprawl when we're talking about things other than education, after all). I'm going to save the benefits for a separate post, however.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Good news

The emails went out with ASHE acceptances and rejections, and one of my papers has been accepted. (I say "mine," but I'm the first of four authors.) I think it was the strongest of the three submissions. So thanks to Vanderbilt's generous travel policies, my trip to ASHE this fall will be paid for.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Is that light the end of the tunnel or a train?

Yesterday morning I sat sleepily at my computer checking my email, until I sat up straight, startled, uttering mild oaths. The email that had occasioned this was a listserv that often includes job announcements, and on this occasion it included the very first job posting for an assistant-level, tenure-track faculty position starting in fall 2009. In other words, job season is now open.

I've been debating how to handle job searches in this blog. In general I am open about most things, but a certain amount of discretion is more appropriate in job-hunting. I've decided that I will post relevant job openings as I see them. Just because I have posted a job does not mean I have applied for it. In some cases, I may explain why I am not applying, just to give a better sense of the market. In other cases, you'll just have to wonder. Only after the entire search is done will I give any more specific account of it all.

So this
first position
is at Miami University of Ohio. They're looking for an assistant or associate professor with a focus on student affairs. I will not be applying, because I have no expertise in that area, and I am not interested in developing it, either. However, seeing it is a definite prod!

Now, time to revamp my CV, get my references lined up, and whip out a little dissertation.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Cost of gas in academia

The rising gas prices are affecting all sorts of parts of the American Way besides our love affair with the road. The latest issue I've seen is with adjunct professors. (I've included the link, but it won't work for most of you.) Adjunct professors are the pieceworkers of academia, hired to teach and paid by the class. Unlike full-time faculty jobs, these positions do not include committee service, student advising, research or publishing. There are adjuncts who just teach one class a semester for whatever reason and are not pursuing a life in academia, and gas prices aren't affecting most of them so much.

The ones who are feeling it are full-time adjuncts. These tend to be people who want to be hired as full-time, probably tenure-track, faculty, but haven't found a job yet. This is partially due to a restructuring of academia in the last few decades that has reduced the percent of tenure-track faculty in favor of more "contingent" faculty, as they are also called. So these folks teach one class here, two there, a third here, and cobble together enough money to live on, albeit without health insurance. Another name for these folks is "freeway fliers" because they spend a lot of time driving between schools.

Can you see where this is going? The cost of gas is making this lifestyle less tenable. Yet cutting back on the farthest gigs probably reduces one's income to the point of starvation, causing one to look for a new job altogether. Schools could raise the rates they pay, but at some point most of the efficiencies of using contingent labor are gone. (The flexibility to hire and fire at will remains.) Schools may have no choice but to hire more tenure-track faculty members - or to say they can't afford tenure at all any more but continue to hire full-timers. The costs to institutions go beyond salary and benefits; they likely include finding offices to put the new faculty in, since adjuncts are unhoused. The costs to low-cost community colleges in particular could be tremendous.*

I suppose this is good news to observers (including me) who look askance at the "adjunctification" of the job market, but it puts schools and administrators in a very difficult position, changing their costs in a way they have little control over at a time when budgets are already tight.

It's also one of those gas-price issues that takes some time to deal with after the problem arises. Let's say a very proactive administrator decides today to start hiring more tenure-track faculty member. The institutional permissions to do so could take a year to get. Meanwhile, the institution is still using adjuncts. It's like deciding to move closer to your job - you have to sell your house and buy another and actually move, and what about your kids' schools? At this point, a lot of people are just waiting it out, hoping prices go back down.

* If you're not in academia, you may be asking, why not just hire an adjunct at current rates to teach a full load at one place? Because at a certain point he or she would have to be considered a full-time employee, with benefits. And industry norms frown on hiring full-timers without official job searches, for one thing, and there are actually tenure implications, for another.