Unlikely as it sounds, a link about the academic job market is one of our happier links this week. Sorry. But we make up for it at the end. There’s also an extremely Stephen Heard-y link involving lichens and werewolves.
Stephen Heard at his most Stephen Heard-y, on folk taxonomy and postal service regulations on mailing live animals. Great post. And don’t skip the comments, where Ian Medeiros wins the intertubes with his stories of mailing lichens:
“It’s a box of lichens.”
“You mean… like… werewolves?”
Erin Sparks’ excellent reflections on the academic job market. (ht Stephen Heard, via Twitter)
Merging my interests in popular science and fiction, this looks interesting. (ht @kjhealy)
On the value of an “aggressive” seminar culture. Really, it’s about the difference between a culture of productive criticism of ideas, and a hierarchical, status-seeking culture in which everyone kisses up and punches down.
Mengel et al. (unreviewed preprint) analyze a dataset of over 19,000 university student evaluations of faculty teaching at Maastricht University’s business and economics school. The evaluations come from various courses, from a context in which students were randomly assigned to male or female section instructors. Female instructors got lower teaching evaluations even though both student grades and self-study hours were unrelated to instructor gender. Note that student grades are based on centralized exams not graded by the section instructors. The gender bias was driven by evaluations from male students, was strongest in mathematical courses, and was strongest for grad student instructors (there was no gender bias in evaluations of senior faculty). The effect sizes aren’t massive (male students rate female instructors 0.21 standard deviations worse than male instructors on average), but that they’re there at all is depressing. Extra-depressingly, the bias shows up not just in evaluations of the instructors, but also in evaluations of textbooks and other course materials, which of course were identical for all sections of any given course. I skimmed the paper, it looks very solid to me. My only minor complaint is that, like many economics papers, there are no figures for the main results, just big tables of effect size estimates and p-values. Related: Brian’s rant on the uselessness (at best) of student evaluations of faculty teaching. (ht @ShellyJLundberg)
Continuing to depress you (sorry): The US Dept. of Education recently announced that it is revisiting Obama-era rules that threatened to withhold federal funding from colleges and universities that mishandled allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault. I don’t pretend to any wisdom on this, since I only know what I read in news reports and first hand accounts of the handling of particular cases. Even recognizing that it’s only the most poorly-handled cases that are likely to come to public attention, it’s depressing that those reports range from kind of scary to bad to utterly horrifying. (Note that those links include stories of innocent people being punished or put through the wringer, as well as of guilty parties going unpunished while their accusers were ignored or demonized; the latter sorts of cases are surely more common.) I wish I could link to the story of even one case in which a college or university handled a case of sexual harassment or assault well, just to offer a bit of hope or some positive examples that other institutions could follow, but I can’t. It just always seems to be institutions trying to protect themselves from whatever they see as they biggest threat to themselves. And I wish I could link to some ideas on how to change that, but I can’t. If anyone can point to ideas or reporting that offer any reason for hope on this front, please do share them.