Thursday, June 12, 2008

Thought Provoking Reading

Two really good articles from IHE:

I've barely had time to read these, let alone think hard about them, but each one touch es on an issue that is critical at my CC and probably at every college or university in the country.

But I think they are both more important at a CC.

I see a lot of vets in my classes, and many of them are among my top students. But some of them face adjustment problems, and some are still in the reserve or guard with on-going time commitments that can interfere with their studies. But none of my students face the challenges of one vet who was in a colleague's class that met just before mine a year or so ago: a triple amputee. That brings the war home. Most of the vets in my classes don't stand out because older students are quite common here, but they quickly stand out because of their work ethic and leadership skills. Clearly the people behind the program at Montgomery College (Maryland) saw many of the same things:

First, the overwhelming emphasis within Combat2College is on identifying how military experience and training are positive assets that can be channeled toward the formation of attitudes and behaviors to promote success in college. Second, the program does not emphasize post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and other disorders experienced by veterans of the ongoing wars. It is realistic and truthful, and notes that these are problems experienced by some veterans, and provides information regarding referral resources and positive coping skills. However, the primary focus is on assisting the veteran to explore and identify the aspects of military training and combat experience that promote personal strength and psychological resilience, and how these can be channeled toward success in college.

Focus groups with combat veterans who had already enrolled in college revealed a common theme of distress and discomfort until “connecting” with other veterans on campus.

I love the idea of building a vet learning community, because I have seen these students do some of that on their own. (It never ceases to amaze me how former Marines find each other.) They are used to working as part of a team, and would probably be more likely than our regular students to see the value in investing time in that sort of effort, an effort that much research (and my own experience) says always pays off in improved learning.

I suspect we get more than our share of these students because we are very welcoming to part time and returning students, but our support systems are nowhere near as robust as those described in the article above. I'm sure we will get a lot more if the long-overdue improved GI Bill gets passed by Congress and signed by this President ... or the next one. That makes a concerted approach all the more important.

Female faculty:
Our faculty is about half female, which makes some of the issues raised by the study reported in IHE (which was done at a research university, UC Irvine) quite important, but one thing I did not notice in the article (or maybe just missed) is the difference in how students treat male and female faculty who do the same thing in the classroom. I know I learned a lot about that after forwarding a blog on that subject (might have been from profgrrrl, or maybe Bitch Phd or Dr Crazy) to some of my colleagues and getting an earful about their experiences.

Among other things, I learned that it is not enough to be a supporter of feminism in academia. What I might think is well-meaning advice, because it works for a guy, can be heard very differently when a woman knows it does not work for her. But once that is out of the way, it does help to communicate that support. (There is no other way that someone can learn I am supportive of their contribution to the college, since that isn't something that comes up in day-to-day interactions. It opened up some very valuable communication channels that now extend to mutual classroom observations that cross disciplinary boundaries.)

One item really made me think. We have quite a few women in management positions (pretty natural when half the faculty are women), but I had never really thought about whether that job gets devalued as a result. I don't think so, but the management style of my department chair is so different from that of men in a similar job that a comparison is almost impossible. I can see how a difference in style could lead to a perception of a difference in authority.

I guess its the "quiet" as much as the desperation that bugs me. Discussing those issues might reduce the desperation, since I'd guess that some of those issues bug men as much as women. Neither group will realize what irritants they share if it doesn't get talked about, and the lack of discussion will lead to desperation.

And that is where I celebrate many of the blogs that explore this subject, using anonymity to speak truth without fear of reprisal at work. I have learned a lot from the openness of some of the names in my blogroll, and that has had a positive effect on my ability to communicate with my colleagues.


CarlBrannen said...

Since I got my MS in physics at UC Irvine, I had to read the article on the problems of women faculty there.

Okay, I have to admit, it was fairly amusing to hear people with positions in academia complaining about their clean, safe, tenured, high status, well paying jobs. If they'd like to try the used equipment recycling business give me a ring, I can find work for hard hands.

My buddy bought three 1 megawatt ovens from Boeing. Turns out they were built into the floor. We had to jackhammer them out of Boeing concrete (higher strength than usual, a sledge hammer wouldn't dent it) in the middle of a hot and humid summer.

One of the guys wasn't used to jack hammers. Maybe he was holding it wrong. After 10 minutes, the top layer of skin came off his palms. Blisters like what you get when you walk too much. Two inch diameter circles came off; that had to hurt. We let him go, largely because he was also very afraid of spiders.

I set myself on fire, twice, one day. Should have soaked my pants in water before cutting 3/16" plate with a gas grinder.

So which is worse, filthy jobs like taking down the old Alcoa smelter, disgusting jobs like lying in dusty pigeon feces while loading rail cars at the Port of Tacoma, jobs that make you wonder why anyone ever eats at restaurants, or the ones that involve scary situations that make you wake up in the middle of the night? I don't like heights but I don't complain about it.

"Honey" is a southernism that can be applied to all sexes but is most common between man and woman, even strangers. I've been called honey, dearie, and sweety by perfect strangers (usually Mississippi waitresses) and I'm an ugly old man. I don't think this happpens in the North, so there is potential for annoying someone here, but it's still nice, clean, well paid, healthy, work.

Doctor Pion said...

There are certainly some differences in form of address when you are in the South, but Irvine is not in Alabama.

An interesting perspective, and certainly one my Vet students bring with them, but I don't see its relevance to whether ideas should be rejected based on the gender of the person making it. Running a university or college is not the same as running a jackhammer.

It is a real problem when students fail to learn important material because they refuse to view a woman with a PhD as an expert in mathematics or chemistry or physics. It wastes their resources and ours. It is a real problem when threats are made based on the assumption that a woman can be bullied into giving a better grade.

CarlBrannen said...

As far as the way UCI supported family concerns, I recall that Virginia Trimble was married to Joe Weber, who had a position at a university on the east coast (where he did some infamous gravity wave experiments, I want to say in Maryland). She was in astronomy. To allow them to spend time together, UCI had him teach, if I recall, two quarters each year. And so I ended up taking GR from him.

Irvine is not Mississippi, but even when you move away from these places, some of your speech habits can follow you and it can get you in trouble.

As a New Mexico boy leaving home for the first time, the locals amazed me at how rude they were, even to total strangers. Having grown up in neighborhoods where insults mean fights, I would never consider yelling at a stranger for littering or bad driving or whatever. The other thing that amazed me was how much warm clothes they wore in weather that I considered suitable for shorts.

CarlBrannen said...

I thought about this yet again. I have no doubt that women have to work harder to get respect in an academic environment.

When I was a grad student in math, the school had grad students teach up to calculus. Few schools still do this, I suspect. Among the teachees, it was well and truthfully known that grad students, on average, were lousy teachers; they had less experience and were, on average, nowhere near as good at math as the faculty.

Once, on the first day of class, I showed up very early and sat with the students, talking with them as if I were taking the class (in a way, I was). One of them told me that he had heard the class was going to be taught by a grad student but it was the only time he could take the class.

It's really not necessary to overcome this sort of bias, but it does kind of piss you off. Humans want respect. And I think that students may learn better when they trust their instructor. So I spent the last 20 minutes of each class working unassigned homework problems for the students. I let them pick the problems and did them extemporaneously, without notes, carefully showing my work like they were supposed to do.

There probably is nothing more depressing for the less excellent math students than a required math class where the grad student trying to teach you can't do the problems himself. This is basically proof that you're not going to make it, and I know that some of my fellow grad students filled this bill precisely (our school did not give a PhD in math so you can imagine our math grad students).