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21 April 2017

Death by a Million Paper Cuts

Without getting into the details, I have enjoyed a window recently into the root of the tensions between faculty and administration. The gist is that some administrators wanted to add another bureaucratic requirement for student midterm grade reporting. I think, to their mind, it was a simple request and would take faculty only an extra half an hour or so a semester to do. The problem, though, is that we are asked to do many, many, many simple and brief things like this in the course of our work. It is no one thing that is necessarily unreasonable; it is the sum total of all the little things that become unreasonable together. It's death by a million paper cuts. For administrators, this is their job, but faculty are supposed to teach and research and serve. These bureaucratic requirements are intrusions on or distractions from, not the substance of, our work.

The Error of the Childcare ROI

The Upshot over at the New York Times had an interesting piece the other day, How Child Care Enriches Mothers, and Especially the Sons They Raise. Somewhat unsurprisingly for a blog that takes an economic perspective, "enrich" is taken quite literally:
The program was expensive — $18,514 per student a year — but after calculating effects like the cost to society of unemployment, crime and poor health, the researchers concluded that it returned $7.30 for every dollar spent.
Economists, policy wonks, and other observers seem increasingly inclined to frame social issues in terms of Return on Investment (ROI). There are consequences to this, however. Namely, reporting on the ROI of a given social program implies that only programs that at the very least pay for themselves are worthy of implementation or continuation. If pressed, though, I think most people would agree that some things are worth spending money on--even a lot of money--even if the benefits cannot be measured in dollars and cents. I have no idea what an ROI analysis would say about police or fire departments, but I think it's safe to assume that we would all still want them around even if they aren't revenue neutral in the grand scheme. We must insist that journalists consider social benefits beyond the monetary because social life is about more than just monetary concerns.

19 April 2017

Sex Ed by Roger Corman and the Bible

There is a storefront church in the community where I work that is infamous for the messages it posts daily on a large outdoor changeable letter sign. Previous messages have included:

  • Not ML King but Jesus Christ![1]
  • Abortion doctors are cold-blooded murderers!
  • Gays and lesbians are disgraces to humanity! Leviticus 20:13[2]
  • Beauty and the Beast teaches bestiality!
  • Public school is child abuse by the state!
  • Bikinis on the beaches is [sic] worse than oil!
  • Replace the Constitution with the Ten Commandments!
The current message is, "Lesbianism is raw depravity! Leviticus 20:13." The "raw depravity" part strikes me more as a tagline for a women-in-prison exploitation film, like Caged Heat, than a biblical injunction. I don't think this is an accident. Sexuality in general, but certainly same-sex sexuality, understood through the heteronormative adolescent male perspective is something that is risky, dangerous, and difficult to restrain. It looks a lot like the B-movies that I grew up watching surreptitiously, late at night on USA's Up All Night. If one emerges from adolescence without reconciling these problematic notions of sexuality, he might find some of the fundamentalist ideas like those espoused by this church appealing.

--
[1] The rhetoric around race in many of the messages are doubly interesting since the leader of the church, Robert T. Lee, is himself black.

[2] Leviticus 20:13 - If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.

15 April 2017

I Can See Your Bourgeois Showing, Healthcare Edition

To the research:



Interesting! I worry, though, that the wrong conclusion is being drawn here. Healthcare workers are human. Of course they perform better when they know they are being observed. (Ahem, Hawthorne Effect!) To say that workers aren't working hard enough and should be doing more--in any field, even one where people could be bleeding out on a table--is asking too much of those workers. My spouse, who is an RN who has worked in both hospital and office settings, pointed out to me that what really changes during these periods of oversight is that administrators intervene uncharacteristically, prepping healthcare workers in important ways. To reduce this to "doctors and nurses should be working harder/better" is a problematic framing. To put it into Spinal Tap-ese (Is there a more appropriately named band for this?), turning things up to 11 for a few days is doable--and, now we know, predictable; turning things up to 11 permanently will cause the amps to overheat. We ask a lot of our healthcare workers, especially nurses and techs. Asking more of them is unjust and, ironically, could make health outcomes even worse.

Let me propose two alternative conclusions from this research. First, don't announce your oversight. If the knowledge of being observed changes behavior, don't make people aware that they're being observed. Second, perhaps it is administrators who should be prodded by these findings. Why aren't the administrators doing the things they do during these observation periods all the time? To focus on employees instead of on systems or managers reeks of capitalistic exploitation.

14 April 2017

Scapegoating Neoliberalism for the Sake of Capitalism

All of a sudden, I feel like everyone is talking about neoliberalism. Peter Kaufman has a nice write-up over at the Everyday Sociology Blog. I worry, though, that renewed interest in neoliberalism as a cause of or explanation for current ills (e.g. the election of Trump, increased nationalism, etc.) at best may divert attention away from the more basic role of capitalism broadly and at worse may serve to absolve capitalism of any culpability. To me, neoliberalism is little more than a new name for capitalism. It emerges in the 1980s as a reaction against the dominant global political-economic trajectory that favored progressive tempering of naked capitalism. From at least the 1930s, advanced industrialized states found an increasingly large role for government to play in insuring social stability, especially in intervening in markets at the macro level and offering safety net programs at the micro level. After fifty years, the opposition found a foothold in the rhetoric of "freedom" and "prosperity." If we allow ourselves to critique the status quo by blaming neoliberalism, we run the risk of ignoring the more fundamental issue posed by capitalism. Neoliberalism may be a problem--but it is not the problem