Perhaps it is time to replace provosts with algorithms

And all their vice-provosts, too.  

USC has been in a tough time for a bit now,  and without a president (and after the president we did have, who was very hierarchical, we have entered a weird phase where everybody in administration is a bit adrift.  Certainly there is leadership, but mostly, I’m noticing a hardening of the bureaucracy—a frantic, sticking-to-the-handbook, I-didn’t-break-any-rules-so-don’t-purge-me mentality.  The default position—at least in my experience—at the university is always “no” anyway, and it’s just gotten worse. 

Recently, I was thinking about all this when the provost’s office overturned a departmental decision to admit a student into our degree program based on the student’s undergraduate GPA. I had written this student a glowing letter because I have tremendous faith in her; she has a ton of ideas, very creative, super insightful…and a student of color.  GPAs are one metric. When my beloved chair called over to the provost’s office to question the decision, we were told that the office has only granted waivers on the GPA twice in 10 years. 

What the actual …F? 

If you are going to have this decision come down to one number, then please let’s stop it with all the nonsense we put students and faculty through.  Submit a request via a short web form, have the algorthim check the GPA and deliver an instant decision. As it is, we’ve wasted this student’s time and energy, and we wasted *my* time writing a letter of recommendation that clearly means nothing to our provost’s office. 

Seriously, I write letter after letter after letter after letter, trying to help students get opportunities they want. Is anybody besides me reading these things? I write letters for junior faculty seeking tenure. I write letters for associate professors seeking promotion to full.

This sort of ranny-gazoo is all over the academy. The University of Michigan recently disciplined a professor who refused to write a letter of recommendation for a student who wanted to do a study abroad in Israel. Now, I dunno what I think of that professor’s choice.  I am not paternalistic enough to decide what opportunities I’ll support my students in seeking, but that’s me.  But I do know these letters don’t mean a damn thing if university higher-ups are going to disregard them on the one hand and punish professors for saying “no” to writing them on the other. The fact this particular student made such an issue of the refusal to write the letter gives me an abundance of reasons for why a professor might have refused to do so, other than the reason he or she gave.

If students are entitled to study abroad in Israel regardless of what proffies think about the deal, then have the students submit their request through a web form and have an algorithm rubber-stamp it.

Our provost office, like many others, have launched one initiative after another to systematize tenure and promotion decisions, deriving rigid rankings of journals and setting up expectations for how many hits one is supposed to have in those journals. Google scholar cites, ISI rankings, Alymetrics, Bubbametrics, rah rah rah.

The impulse behind making the standards more transparent is not evil.  But I think the endgame, pursued as we seem to be doing, means that even tenure decisions could be made by an algorithm. Think of the lawsuits it would save. 

And provosts are expensive, universities. Plan accordingly.

Food-is-love advising

I had a “food is love” grandma,  whose sweetness was doled out in ice cream. I miss her quite a bit, even though I think she likely missed me more. I moved away, and I am hard to stay connected to due to the mandatory time I seem to need in my own world. 

I have a student who has had a rough half year, and we made a date for pancakes to catch up.  My idea. I take students to lunch, I take students to dinner, we go to coffee, we have snacks.

 Food is entirely wrapped up in my expressions of hospitality and care. I’m sure nutritionists would not approve of this, but it’s the way I am. 

I remember a friend coming to my house after she had taken the LSAT. And she was feeling demoralized, as one does after these awful tests. She said she was hungry. Andy and I made her an omelet and toast. 

I remember a student of color ordering one of his favorite ethnic foods and happily consuming it in front of me, his white advisor, and it made me happy he was so comfortable with me he know I understood how food is more than just nutrition, that it has so many meanings, that with me had space to have what he wanted, not what maintained an image. 

I remember that terrible week of the shootings at Virginia Tech, the students who hadn’t gone home had little to do, we bought tons of candy and snacks at the Walmart in Christiansburg (where you can, in fact, find Christians) and used my old projector from when I was a consultant to show “Weird Science” on the side of a building whose name I can’t remember now.  We stayed up until 1 am talking together after we were done. 

I remember my grandma, with her cake. Do you want ice cream, too? You would be having ice cream, too.

New Bedrosian Podcast: Planning for AuthentiCITIES, edited by Laura Tate and Brettany Shannon

Hey y’all! Everything continues to melt around me (this is fine, says the dog with the coffee cup. Hey! Verisimilitude!  I do have a dog and a cup of coffee, so….) but USC Price does do cool things, too, and one of them is a series of podcasts under the book club banner! We are podcasting interviews with USC Price book writers The first one is with an edited volume from the brilliant Laura Tate and Brittany Shannon called Planning for AuthentiCITIES. 

 

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There are 18 chapters and 16 authors involved in this effort, and it’s terrific. It’s got everything from how play and comics in the city helps contribute to the feelings of attachment and authenticity along with deeply theoretical chapters that hit the ball out of the park.  Our own Maria Francesca Piazzoni submitted a brilliant—and very readable—theoretical exploration. 

I love the book—I think it’s terrific—and I think it’s a real contribution to community development as well as planning/urban theory.  Of course, I’m crazy about one of the editors as all USC students are brilliant with extra brilliance on top, but I don’t think my affection is all bias. 

You can listen to my discussion with the two editors here! 

Today, my male colleagues will go on, like nothing has happened to anybody

As a matter of a fact, one genius decided yesterday to be as boneheaded as possible to upset everybody by email because, you know, accusers DO LIE now and then. Which, since we know the gender balance of these things here, means that any and every woman who has experienced sexual assault and aggression should be treated like she is a witness in a capital trial.  

Even though there is no trial. And all women are asking is to be believed when they say men, even men we like, who agree with politically, who have families and even turn out not to be terrible fathers,  do awful things.  

And all this did was cause hurt.  And more work for me as students turn to the professors who don’t have rocks in their heads, who are aware of how gender structures our lives,  because they need to.

And they are entitled to. At least in my book they are. 

And he was unpleasant to our women and allies and student group.

You see, it was important for men to discuss how it’s not all men.  Men, you see, have important needs. They need to be treated fairly.  It’s a policy school, and we must focus on the men, but only in certain ways, by focusing on how women fail to be perfect, and how when somebody points out that deep, deep insight, he’s entitled to his opinion about how women are not, as a universal class, above bad behavior. 

Because we discussed these deep, deep things, we did not discuss the many other policy-relevant questions: 

1. We did not discuss how yesterday two of the same old men who sat in judgment of Anita Hill all those years ago also sat in judgement of Dr. Ford, and is it really a good idea to have the same people holding on to incredibly important committee positions for that long? 

2. We did not discuss why Caesar’s wife must be beyond reproach, but a man of terrible character feels entitled to hold extremely powerful positions just because his friends tell him it’s his turn after he did his service to them chickenhawking Dems. 

3.  We did not discuss his jurisprudence at all. 

4.  We did not discuss how Republicans whined (and Kavannaugh himself whined and Lindsey Graham whined) that this was all just political hackery, conveniently forgetting that Neil Gorsuch was confirmed with what seems to me  decidedly little partisan haggling, largely because Gorsuch’s record was one of an honorable, conservative jurist whose natural law leanings make me crazy, but certainly speak to a more principled life in the law than Kavannaugh). 

5. We did not discuss why Republicans are so invested in this specific toxic candidate, or why they are so willing to stand by a man whose conduct towards women is appalling, instead of just withdrawing the nomination in favor of the many, many  qualified conservative jurists who are better men and oh by the way WOMEN who happen to be conservative jurists, all of whom are way more Gorsuch-like than Kavannaughlike. 

6. We did not discuss that lifetime appointments on the Supreme Court is probably a very bad idea institutionally, particularly when one party decides to pack the court. 

But we didn’t get to have any of these discussions.  Nobody got any smarter as a result of the discussion we DID have, but it was important to not have any of these other discussions because men need. 

And so the fellas will go on, having a nice work day today, while the women in the department continue to try to hold Price together for the students, so that at the end of the year, we can be told that we aren’t as research productive as all the dudes,  why aren’t we getting more done?  How are we using our time? 

Today your newsfeed will be full of crusty old men and that useless Jeff Flake.  Here’s a picture of two cute things, Dr. Tani and Izzy, instead. 

 

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Do not underestimate the extreme pleasure of filling your Little Free Library with feminist and anti-whiteness children books

MUHUHUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.  

Continuing to experiment with my little free library and front yard pocket park. I’ve been providing a place to sit in my front garden, and It’s well-used, with our long blocks and the like.  But I have only recently put up my Little Free Library, and we are quite obsessed. I keep telling myself I will just let it govern itself, but I check it every time I walk past, which is usually at least once a day given I walk past it on the way to the car, bus, or during walkies. 

Ahem. It all looks innocent enough.  Just a dumb old white lady virtue signaling on her private property, look at me, look at me, I share books.

 

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BUT NO. 

 

Giving away things is great fun, but I’m particularly obsessed by children’s books because I WANT TO BRAINWASH YOUR CHILDREN INTO MY EVIL WORLDVIEW MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.  

 

There are some great kid’s books out that confront whiteness.  LaMikia Castillo sent this one to me: 

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And then, of course, adventures: 

 

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Finally….I am a huge, huge fan of Illustrator Jack Ezra Keats: and his little guy in the darling red snowsuit:  

 

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