Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Implicit Bias and Progress

Yesterday I took part in a workshop on implicit (unconscious) bias--it was fascinating & engaging, and I'm so glad I went. The statistics on implicit bias are depressing but so eye-opening.  One that jumped out at me was a study that showed how the representation of women authors in an academic journal increased bu 30% after anonymous review was introduced. Implicit bias has been linked to police killings of unarmed African Americans, discriminatory hiring practices, and even online dating racism.

A recent BBC article discusses the debates surrounding implicit bias, without really coming to any solid conclusions, but I think it's a very important concept. The article mentions how Hillary Clinton referred to implicit bias in one of the debates--and that Donald Trump misinterpreted it as her claiming that everybody is racist. That's the kind of rhetoric that gets Trump supporters riled up--they equate the complex concept of implicit bias with simple, ugly racism, and then get defensive when they're told they have implicit biases. Research suggests that 98% of people have implicit biases. It's not the same as racism.

Obviously, after the workshop, I wanted to check out my biases--I took one on gender and careers and another on age. I had a moderate association of men-careers and women-families, like about 1/3 of people, and a moderate preference of old people over young people, like only 2% of respondents. Harvard's Implicit Association Test is here, but bear in mind that knowing what your implicit biases doesn't really address the problem. Research has shown that awareness doesn't improve behavioural outcomes, as you might think it would. The key to making real progress is systemic change--anonymisation of CVs and applications, anonymised marking, diversification of the curriculum, etc.

I did notice some encouraging signs from the workshop, like the fact that there were a few white guys in the room, and that when asked to brainstorm groups that might be affected by implicit biases, we came up with an impressive range, acknowledging how widespread and important the problem is. It wasn't just women and POC, but those with disabilities, people from lower socioeconomic classes, people with mental health disorders, religious groups, occupations, age (youth and elderly are both subject to implicit bias), etc.

This morning I came across a great quote that made me think about the progress that's been made--how important it is to understand and appreciate it, and to fiercely protect it from attempts to rollback that progress. It's from M. J. Hardman, a linguistic anthropologist and Emeritus Professor at University of Florida. She also happened to be the first Fulbright student to Peru in 1958, and held a Fulbright lectureship to Bolivia in 1965. She's had an absolutely fascinating career and personal life, and I'm trying to find a place for her in my Fulbright women book chapter edits.

"My greatest fear is that the young do not know what it has cost us to open the doors through which they now said. There is always the danger that those doors may close behind them." 

(Hardman, M.J., 2013, On the 50th Anniversary of the Publication of The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan, Women and Language, 36(1), pp. 57-61).

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Future Directions for Higher Education

In my application for HEA fellowship that I finished yesterday (yay!), one of the areas of professional values was "acknowledge the wider context in which higher education operates, recognising the implications for professional practice." I talked about the rise of international recruitment, as that's the area I know best from my research & my work with the University marketing department's International Office. This morning I came across another, more expansive consideration of this context--our society's future HE needs in the new economy. 

Former US Ambassador to Australia and Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board chair Jeffrey Bleich gave this keynote address back in March--it's a bit long but worth the read. He offers a compelling explanation for last year's political shifts (Brexit & Trump, among others), and moves on to describe a broader vision for the future global economy. With regards to higher education specifically, he notes that if people are going to be trained to use current technology, they are also going to need retraining throughout their lives to keep up with the constant technological advancements and changes--especially if they are going to live longer and work longer. 

"Universities may become less a way station for youth, than a life-long subscription service, with frequent retrainings."

I love this concept, not least because I've always loved school and can't imagine anything better than going back to it for the rest of my life. The concept of life-long learning is something my grandfather demonstrated to me from an early age. He loved--and used--the dictionary, thesaurus and encyclopedia. He watched BBC World Service on PBS and listened to Seattle's classical music radio station. He would've loved Wikipedia.

Bleich's concept aligns with what we're seeing in a lot of people's careers in the modern economy--people don't just do one thing, follow one career path anymore. It's increasingly rare to see someone work for the same company for 40 years. Trump and his supporters think that was a good system, that 40 years of mining was a great career, rather than a cause of black lung disease. I saw an interview where his supporters in Pennsylvania were excited about the new Acosta coal mine. They echoed the same ideas about hope that Bleich mentioned in his address:

"We feel like we've been thrown away. Our children don't matter, our grandchildren don't matter. And when Trump mentioned us, that was awesome."

I feel for the coal communities--I've been there, my grandfather grew up in West Virginia, and I get it--but going back to coal mining isn't the solution. This new mine is expected to provide 70-150 jobs--that's not going to restore a community that's been hit by thousands of layoffs. And how long is it going to last? They need long-term, sustainable solutions to their employment problems, not a short-term, partial resurrection of a dead industry.
--Investment in green technologies
--Retraining for green jobs
--Infrastructure (one of the interviewees mentioned their broadband infrastructure, among others)

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

I should be writing...

I just had my first staff developmental review and it really was helpful--I wish I'd had one of these during the PhD (although maybe that's what my supervision meetings were supposed to cover...)

The biggest thing I took away from it is the ubiquitous advice that I should be writing. Not just "write more" but seriously, write for 10 minutes here and there when you get a chance, carry a journal article in your bag to read when you're waiting in a queue, always have a writing task list going, etc. They basically explained that they don't take lunch breaks and they're constantly working and thinking. When I mentioned my teaching workload last term meant I never got anything done, as I was with students 10am-4pm, I could tell that they saw that as 2 hours of wasted time. Why wasn't I writing  9-10am and 4-5pm, when George was still at nursery? Because I was exhausted. Being switched on and student-facing for 6 hours straight is mentally exhausting.

(actually, even just being around people for 6 hours is pretty exhausting for an introvert)

They explained the reality of academia to me. They don't do what I do--they don't relax and recharge. They get up early and stay up late to read and write. It's very depressing and it's fuelled my self-doubt even more now.

I'm going to have a research mentor & try to have some accountability with my writing--weekly check-ins, maybe? This blog hasn't really helped me establish better writing habits--it might work for some people, but I just find it's too easy to ignore it for long stretches of time.

Trying not to get too depressed about this realisation...at least now I know why I'm failing as an academic. It's because I'm enjoying my life!

Monday, 30 January 2017

The Fulbright Resolution and American Sovereignty

While all eyes have been on Trump and his executive orders, this House bill proposing that the US should leave the UN hasn't received much attention. 

The bill was introduced by Representative Mike Rogers of Alabama, who's been talking about this proposal since the Brexit vote took place last June. He's also a co-sponsor of the "Stop Dangerous Sanctuary Cities Act", "Defund Planned Parenthood Act" and "Prohibiting the Usurpation of Bathroom Laws through Independent Choice School Act (PUBLIC School Act) of 2016"--a bill that says federal funding can't be denied to institutions that adhere to anti-transgender bathroom laws--as well as various other bills that you would assume an Alabama Republican would support (pro-gun, pro-flag, anti-abortion, anti-tax, etc.).

I was upset but not surprised by the bill. The thing that irks me the most is its use of "sovereignty". The United Nations does not impinge upon the sovereignty of its members. What do they think the UN is? It's very interesting, because sovereignty came up frequently in the rhetoric of the Leave campaign, as well as Trump's campaign. Supporters (of Brexit & Trump alike) talked about "taking our country back"--but from what?

"Many talk of being sovereign as if it were like being pregnant: one either is or is not. The truth is more complex. A country can be wholly sovereign yet have little influence. Britain has signed some 700 international treaties that impinge on sovereignty. Although the EU has the biggest impact, others count a lot: membership of NATO, for example, creates an obligation to go to war if another member country is attacked. It can be worth ceding this independence to gain influence." (The Economist)

Trump has talked about leaving NATO, too, ignoring the fact that the only time Article 5 was invoked was after 9/11--drawing America's European allies into war in Afghanistan. The United States has only benefitted from that particular 'loss of sovereignty'. 

The other thing that upset me about the bill was the fact that US membership in the UN was part of Senator Fulbright's legacy. The so-called Fulbright Resolution, House Congressional Resolution 25, was introduced by the junior Representative in 1943, just six months into his three decade long Congressional career. It pledged the US to join a postwar international organisation, with the precise form & details of that organisation to-be-determined.

In his statement to the House, available online from the University of Arkansas, Representative Fulbright reminded his colleagues of the importance of achieving a lasting peace this time, after having failed to do so in the aftermath of the First World War.

"To do nothing as we did in 1920 will be a decision in favor of international anarchy...All of our experience indicates that it is absolutely necessary that some positive, affirmative action be taken before the fighting is over, if we are to achieve anything of lasting value from this war."

It's essentially a commitment to internationalism, as he speaks out strongly against isolationism. The wording and content of the resolution is simple and innocuous, but it's an important statement to the world. It declares that the US is ready and willing to play its part in establishing the postwar world order, not to retreat and isolate itself as it did after the First World War. He kept the wording simple so that debates and disagreements over the details could be avoided at this early stage.

"Let us not forget that it was just such haggling and misunderstandings by the Senate in 1920, by both parties, over reservations and restrictions, many of them of little importance, that led to our renunciation of any responsibility for world order, and in a very real sense prepared the way for the savage total war of today."

It's been a tough ten days (it's only been 10 days!) of Trump being in office, with each morning's headlines documenting yet another outrageous executive order or unqualified cabinet member or 'alternative facts' from the new press secretary. It's been absolutely wonderful and affirming to see the resistance, though--from the millions who participated in womens' marches around the world to Greenpeace's Resist banner hanging from a crane above the White House, to the ACLU's legal challenge of the immigration ban and the thousands who are demonstrating against it at airports and in city centres. Tonight there are protests again--even in Leeds--and over 1 million people in the UK have signed a petition against Trump's proposed state visit. I love that people are standing up to the craziness, that the press is not backing down and accepting 'alternative facts'. About an hour ago he called the media "the opposition party" on Twitter. He means it in a derogatory way, but they should embrace it. I prefer the British term, 'her Majesty's loyal opposition'--i.e. the media is loyal to the country, and they are the opposition because of that loyalty. You can be an opposition party in service to the country--and that's just what the US media are doing right now. Let's hope they keep it up!

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Initial Election Thoughts

I was absolutely shocked and devastated by the election results on Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, but now it's clear that we all should have seen it coming. It was Brexit all over again--the same divisive, angry rhetoric on both sides, the same class and race dividing lines, and of course, the same result.

I've been reading a lot of pieces that try to explain it, try to make sense of what happened, why the pollsters got it wrong again, and what happens next. I don't claim to understand it all, and I'm sure there isn't one single, simple explanation. Class, race and education seem to play a huge part in the new alt-right populist politics.  The media tends to focus on the working class, uneducated voters who support Trump and have certain lower socio-economic indicators--even the "Make America Great Again" hat is a class marker--it's a so-called "trucker hat". For Brexit, we saw the same type of media portrayal--voters who lived near closed-down factories and industries, like Stoke or Wales for instance, where there was high unemployment, went for Leave. But in both cases, there was a gap between the media portrayal and the reality as shown in exit polling. The majority of Americans who earned less than $50,000 a year voted for Clinton, and many Brexit supporters were retirees living in rural areas and villages in detached homes--not exactly poor or working class.

Many people have noted that these two elections have exposed an undercurrent of racism and bigotry in society. In the aftermath of Brexit, there was a spike in hate crimes and in the days leading up to the U.S. election, I feared a repeat of that--no matter who won. There have already been stories circulating on social media about racist and anti-Semitic vandalism, harrassment, verbal abuse, sexual assault, and other forms of hate crimes.

I'm not quite ready to make peace with this new reality. I'm disappointed that Clinton won the popular vote and lost the electoral college--it's like 2000 Gore v. Bush all over again, but without the Supreme Court decision. I'm going to struggle explaining it to my students. I can't picture Inauguration Day, or a State of the Union address with Trump not just taking part, but playing the starring role. I never watched The Apprentice and I don't want to watch him on C-Span, either.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Feedback Anxiety

As an early career academic, I don't have much experience with editors' comments, so I haven't developed a thick skin yet. Every little margin note & criticism is deeply painful to read. I agree with their comments, too--I don't challenge them, I just accept that they're right and I'm wrong and my work is crap. It sends me to a very hopeless, demotivated place where I struggle to see how I could possibly revise it again. I don't know what I'm doing. I don't know how I got a PhD. Somebody clearly made a mistake.

The trouble is, I've already been feeling like a failure because my contract includes some TA work. I'm still doing the same thing I did when I was a PhD student. I love teaching and I'm extremely grateful to be employed, but it's a constant reminder that I have failed to get a post-doc position or a research assistantship or an entry-level lecturing post...One day I mentioned to Richard that I felt like a failed academic and he reminded me that it's not over yet--my career's just starting, it's too early to label it a failure. That said, the "early career" stage excuse can only cover five or so years. The 'what if's creep in and I panic about never establishing myself. And then I get feedback like this, asking for a total rewrite and I have no time to do it, between teaching and reading (no time for job searching or putting together new proposals). How are other academics managing to do all of this? Do they just never sleep or spend time interacting with other people? Is that what I'm doing wrong?

At the moment, I'm procrastinating over facing the comments and doing my rewrite of that women & FP chapter...I just wanted to put this out there and reflect on it all before I bury it deep again and move on with life. Does it get easier, this whole publication process? Will I always feel worthless when I read editors' comments? Should I give up on academia and move out to a sheep farm in the Dales?

Thursday, 20 October 2016

2016 Presidential Debates

Now that the final debate is over, I'm ready to comment on this whole hot mess. It's been a painful thing to watch these debates. They've been unlike any other debates we've ever seen--the constant interruptions and talking over each other, candidates not shaking hands at the start and end, name-calling, etc. We've never had one candidate dominate all three debates before, either--Clinton has been the clear winner of every debate, while her predecessors have often performed better in one format or the other, and the winner is often determined by style over substance. In this election, Clinton had both. She remained calm and poised, even when Trump raised his voice and became agitated. She rose above his insults and name-calling, and came back at him with well-crafted responses that often used his own words against him to prove her points. She tried to stick to the issues, particularly during the first debate, before more pressing personal issues arose with more recent revelations.

Clinton has used the debates very strategically and masterfully--more than anything else in her campaign, her debate performances have demonstrated her political skills. She refers to a person to illustrate a point, as we've seen so many other candidates do (McCain's Joe the Plumber in 2008, David Cameron's '40-year-old black man' in Plymouth in 2010), but it's not just any old anecdote. It's an interview, press release, viral video and TV advertisement that are already filmed, edited and ready to launch. Her mention of Alicia Machado at the first debate was absolutely brilliant--his awful nicknames for her demonstrated both her opponent's misogynist attitudes towards women ('Miss Piggy') and his racist stereotyping of Latinas ('Miss Housekeeping'). It absolutely threw him and got under his skin--not only was he visibly uncomfortable (asking 'where did you hear this?') at the debate, but he subsequently spent a week tweeting about it, trying to harm Machado's reputation and discredit her. Instead, it reinforced the image of him as a bully--an image that was humorous during the GOP primaries when his target was "Lyin' Ted" or "Little Marco", but the bully image took on a much more sinister, more universally repugnant quality when his target became any woman who's ever struggled with her weight (i.e. 99.9% of women).
I think the final comments of each candidate at the third debate really do sum up this whole election campaign. They were asked to keep it positive, and Clinton, first to give her remarks, did keep it very positive:

Hillary Clinton: 
I would like to say to everyone watching tonight that I’m reaching out to all Americans, Democrats, Republicans and Independents, because we need everybody to help make our country what it should be. To grow the economy, to make it fairer. To make it work for everyone. We need your talents, your skills, your commitment, your energy, your ambition. 
You know, I’ve been privileged to see the presidency up close, and I know the awesome responsibility of protecting our country and the incredible opportunity of working to try to make life better for all of you. I have made the cause of children and families, really my life’s work — that’s what my mission will be in the presidency. I will stand up for families against powerful interests, against corporations. I will do everything I can to make sure that you have good jobs with rising incomes. That your kids have good educations from preschool through college. I hope you will give me a chance to serve as your president.

She doesn't mention Donald Trump at all. She starts by echoing Obama's 2008 election night promise--'even if you didn't vote for me, I will be your President, too.' It's a lovely concept and an attempt to heal the wounds inflicted by this divisive, crazy election cycle. The emphasis on children and families plays to her strengths as the first female candidate--women are expected to know what they're talking about when it comes to children/families, so it lends her credibility (obviously that's all problematic for gender reasons, but let's ignore that for the sake of political strategy). It's an appeal to the voters, putting the decision in their hands and empowering them--"I hope you will give me a chance to serve as your president"--hope, a chance, to serve.

Trump's comments took the opposite tactic: he stayed on the attack and kept his tone decidedly negative.

Donald Trump:
She’s raising the money from the people she wants to control. Doesn’t work that way. But when I started this campaign, I started it very strongly, it’s called Make America Great Again. We’re going to make America great. We have a depleted military. It has to be helped, it has to be fixed. We have the greatest people on earth on our military.
We don’t take care of our veterans. We take care of illegal immigrants, people who come into the country illegally, better than we take care of our vets. That can’t happen. Our policemen and women are disrespected. We need law and order, but we need justice too. Our inner cities are a disaster. You get shot walking to the store. They have no education, they have no jobs. I will do more for African Americans and Latinos than she can ever do in ten lifetimes.All she’s done is talk to the African Americans and to the Latinos. But they get the vote and then they come back and say ‘we’ll see you in four years.’
We are going to make America strong again and we are going to make America great again, and it has to start now. We cannot take four more years of Barack Obama, and that’s what you get when you get her.

He opens with an accusation, and it's not even particularly clear what he's accusing her of. He says he'll make America great, then criticizes the state of the military, veterans affairs, immigration, "inner cities" (Trumpspeak for areas where minorities live). He says a Clinton presidency would be four more years of Obama's policies as if that were a bad thing--his approval rating is currently at its second-term high, so I don't think the American people will have too much of a problem with that.

And finally, here's my official prediction. I've left Utah blank because I think McMullin genuinely could win, which means Utah's electoral votes go to neither Trump nor Clinton.