Tag Archives: academia

Review essay: Public engagement and the influence imperative

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I have written a review essay at the invitation of Contemporary Sociology. Here’s a preprint version on SocArXiv: https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/v27xk/.

This is the abstract. Feedback welcome!

Public engagement and the influence imperative

Abstract: A review essay discussing three advice books for social scientists. Sociologists, in responding to the imperative to make their work more influential, must go beyond doing “public sociology” to embrace doing sociology “in public” (Healy 2017). Rather than using public engagement primarily for publicity – to make our research matter – we should use engagement to help us do research that matters in the first place. Next, I caution that the drive to be professionally rewarded for public intellectualism is fraught with conflicts that may be irreconcilable. To be a public intellectual today requires being both public in one’s intellectual life and intellectual in one’s public life, and for academics in the era of the “market university” (Berman 2011), trying to get paid for that leads to a neoliberal trap. Finally, I argue for a move beyond personal strategies toward the development of the open scholarship as an institutional response that ultimately may be responsible for sociology’s survival.

Here is the SocArXiv citation:

Cohen, Philip N., 2018. “Public Engagement and the Influence Imperative”. SocArXiv. April 7. doi:10.17605/OSF.IO/V27XK.

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Mark Regnerus to be promoted to full professor at UT Austin

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Grainy hidden-camera photo by pnc.

Mark Regnerus, who has been an associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin since 2007, will be promoted to full professor, according to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the situation. That decision was made at the level of the central administration, overriding negative recommendations from both the Department of Sociology faculty and the College of Liberal Arts.

In terms of research productivity, Regnerus’s record is adequate for promotion at a leading research university. His early work was well-cited. His most recent book, Cheap Sex (the only one I’ve read) is atrocious (as I have written). But the real problem is ethics, and there the protocol is less clear. I previously wrote:

To get background on the story of the Regnerus Affair, you can read the chapter in my book [Enduring Bonds], or read the entire Regnerus thread on this blog, or read this 2015 recap, which is the latest long piece, with links to everything else. For purposes of this discussion, these conclusions are salient: he used crudely biased survey methods to gin up harms attributable to same-sex parenting, to help stop same-sex marriage in the courts, as part of a conspiracy with other right-wing academics (principally Brad Wilcox) and institutions (Heritage Foundation, Bradley Foundation, Witherspoon Institute), which included manipulating the peer review process to plant supporters on the panel and submitting the article for publication before the data collection was even complete, and then repeatedly lying about all that to cover up the conspiracy (including in the published work itself, where he falsely denied the involvement of the funders, and in an ethics proceeding by his university).

So what do we do with all this now? All that didn’t get him fired, and he still does research in the academic system. That is galling, because there is at least one really good, honest researcher who doesn’t have a tenure-track job today because Regnerus does. But that’s the system. Meanwhile life is long, people can change. In our weak system, however, which relies almost entirely on good will and honesty by researchers, reputation matters. With his reputation, you simply can’t take his word in the way that we (naively) do with regular researchers. I think there are two options, then, if we are to take the research seriously. The first is he could come clean, admit to what he did, and make an honest attempt to re-enter respectable academia. The other (non-exclusive) option is for him to make his research open and transparent, to subject it to scrutiny and verification, and let people see that he is behaving honestly and ethically now.

He has not yet done either of those things.

I would vote against his promotion based on this record. Maybe the internal documents will come out and allow us to debate this more fully, but to me it’s not a hard decision.

So I think it’s bad for the UT administration to override the faculty recommendation and impose the promotion for Regnerus. With the stroke of that pen, they commit the university — barring unplanned events — to several million dollars worth of salary and benefits for him for the next several decades. And thousands of students subjected to his teaching. That’s money that could be spent on much more valuable things, including honest, ethical sociologists.


 

Comments will be moderated for length, repetitiveness, and obnoxiousness.

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Campus sexual harassment coverage, UMD circa 2003

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a powerful story about the Harvard professor Jorge Domínguez, who has kept his tenured job — and moved up within it — for decades despite repeated, substantiated claims of sexual harassment. That goes back to the early 1980s, surely a different world. Of course, after #MeToo, 2016 seems like a different world. But it’s not really.

Anyway, here’s a story to consider. This is from Page 1 of the Diamondback, the University of Maryland’s independent student newspaper, from November 19, 2003. (And thanks to the McKeldin Library staff for reminding me how to use the microfilm machine.)

This concerns Maryland sociology professor David Segal and a female graduate student in our program at the time; the story includes comments from Mady Segal, David’s wife, who was also a professor here. Both are now retired with honorary emeritus status at the university. (The student, who is not named, although she was identifiable to people familiar with the program at the time, consented to my posting this story.)

It’s important to think about the context, both institutionally and historically, that would produce a story like this, and what that means for women reporting harassment then, and now. (The Diamondback reporter did not respond to a request for comment.)

Because the photocopy from microfilm is hard to read, I extracted the text and include it below, but here is a PDF of the copy, too. A few questions follow the text.


Permanent open-door policy: Sociology professor says flawed sexual harassment policy ruined his reputation

Photo caption: Sociology professor David Segal now fears being accused of sexual harassment if he closes the door to his office when talking with a female student.

By Megan Watzin, Senior staff writer

When students visit David Segal’s office now, he either leaves the door open or explicitly asks the student if it is OK if he closes the door.

The sociology professor accused of sexual and ethnic harassment by a female graduate student two years ago said he never got to defend himself because of flaws in the university’s process for handling sexual harassment claims.

Segal was eventually found innocent of all five charges against him – bias, conflict of interest, discrimination, sexual harassment and ethnic harassment. However, he maintains the charges – which he insists are false – have permanently damaged his reputation and career. He is pushing for the University Senate to make significant revisions to the university’s sexual harassment process and policy this year.

Segal said he was accused in 2001 of telling a Mafia joke and a sexual joke involving Italian food that offended the graduate student, who is Italian. The other three charges were quickly dismissed by the university attorneys as impossible to prove.

The graduate student’s identity is protected by the university, and she could not be reached for comment for this story.

He insists the graduate student made up the charges, which is a violation of the student code of conduct. However, Segal was unable to file a complaint accusing her of violating the student code of conduct because of a single piece of paper, a detailed signed statement of the accusations against him, that may never have been completed when the harassment charges were initially filed.

“The accusations were lies and I could prove they were lies, but I couldn’t get the statement from the accuser,” he said. “It was like the Spanish Inquisition and the Stalinist purges during the Cold War. There was no justice.”

John Zacker, director of the Office of Judicial Programs, which handles about 600 cases of alleged misconduct each year, said the burden of evidence that false claims were made is the responsibility of the claiming party.

Segal said he suspected the university attorneys were hiding the statement from him, so he asked the associate provost, the provost, the faculty ombudsman, university President Dan Mote’s chief of staff and Mote himself for their help in getting it. None were successful – the statement may have never existed.

Segal said the statement would have provided the necessary evidence to file a complaint against his accuser, but it remains unclear whether it should have been completed in the first place because the procedures for filing a harassment claim are vague.

There are two avenues for filing a sexual harassment claim – formal and informal. The graduate student officially filed an informal claim. Senate Chair Joel Cohen said the problem with the current policy is there is no clear difference between the two processes, and therefore it is unclear what steps should be followed.

Two years later

The graduate student remains in good standing at the university and was also granted several requests after she made the accusations, Segal said. He said she asked for continued funding for her assistantship under him, and extension for taking her two doctoral exams and for Segal and his wife, who also works in the sociology department, not to be allowed to sit on the panel that creates and grades her doctoral exams.

Two years later, she has not taken her doctoral exams, Segal said. She had originally been preparing to take an exam in military sociology – Segal’s specialty area – but said she could no longer take that test because of him, so she was granted extra time to prepare for a different exam.

Segal noticed he was still listed as her adviser a few months ago, he said, and immediately asked sociology department Chair William Falk to assign her to a different adviser.

Segal and his wife, Mady, who also mentored the student, said she had been performing poorly shortly before the accusations were made. Segal sent her emails telling her she was not doing her job and was at risk of failing.

“This is a graduate student who is not fulfilling her work requirements and was not making adequate progress toward a degree, and was looking for a way to blame someone else and postpone her doctoral exams,” Mady Segal said. “She was trying to excuse her failings.”

Time for a change

Segal was summoned to meet with university attorneys Sept. 24, 2001, and was informed he had been accused of sexual harassment. That same day a tornado touched down on the campus and significantly damaged the Segals’ nearby house. At that point, there was already an ongoing investigation, which Segal said he only found out about from Falk.

Mady Segal sat on the Committee on Professional Issues in 1987 when it authored the current sexual harassment policy. She said the way the policy was carried out in her husband’s case was not the way it was intended to work.

“The original intent was there would be an informal resolution process when there is a complaint,” she said. “I think because of the perception of legal requirements on campus, they have eliminated an informal procedure, because any time there is an allegation, it goes straight to the president’s attorneys.”

The Segals advocate a clear informal process be laid out for filing a complaint – one in which the accuser is made aware they can contact the department head or human relations department to mediate the situation. Under the current policy, as soon as a complaint alleging harassment is received by a university employee, that employee is required to contact university attorneys, according to Senate documents.

“The process that’s being used now is bypassing an informal mediation by getting the attorneys involved,” Mady Segal said.

Mote’s chief of staff, Ann Wylie, made recommendations to the three-member Senate panel now examining the policy. The panel is expected to make a report outlining recommended changes by the end of the semester.

“I looked to see … how they handled cases, and the fact of the matter is the whole system that we have in place now is set up to protect the person making the complaint,” Wylie said. “It is appropriate with all policies to just sit down and go back over it and make sure it protects the innocent.”

After being accused and not being able to make charges against the accuser, Segal wrote to the Senate a list of recommended changes that stressed the student code of conduct be more strictly enforced in the cases of false allegations. He also suggested a written form stating the accusations be filled out in both formal and informal sexual harassment cases, and that the accused have access to it.

“People can file false claims and get away with it,” Segal said. “And people who file justifiable claims become victims again.”

The Senate Human Relations Committee found that similar questions needed to be addressed before assigning the panel the task of examining the policy.

Roger Candelaria, the campus compliance officer, said the number of sexual harassment claims that turn out to be false or the result of a student attempting to abuse the system represents only a very tiny portion of the roughly once-a-week complaints.

‘Damaged goods’

Segal said he doesn’t feel he can have close relationships with female students anymore. He stopped enjoying teaching – his one true passion – for two years. He said this semester is the first time since the allegations he has started to enjoy being in the classroom again.

“As this all unfolded, the campus became a frightening place for me. I go into the field with soldiers. I’ve been to dangerous places. The university was a sanctuary,” Segal said. “I had trouble preparing for classes and sleep disturbances.”

Segal has worked at the university since 1976 and has constantly received job offers from other institutions. He said he always turned them down out of a loyalty to this university. After the sexual harassment allegations, he considered for the first time leaving. But at that time, all the job offers stopped.

“I’m damaged goods,” he said.

Mady, who has been married to him for 37 years, said she doesn’t think her husband will ever be the same.

“It was a terrible blow to his reputation,” she said. “Nothing very serious was alleged, but it was a big deal to him. David has always been a very happy person … He was always cheerful. He has lost a lot of that cheerfulness.”


Questions an editor today might ask the reporter before running this story:

  • What does it mean that he “never got to defend himself”? Actually, what was the accusation, specifically, and how was it adjudicated to produce an “innocent” result?
  • Was the sexual harassment accusation really about a single joke involving Italian food, and if so, how is keeping his office door open relevant?
  • Is there some emergency that requires printing this story before the student can be reached to offer her version of events?
  • Did you verify with anyone the student’s academic status, which is offered as her motive to lie?
  • Followup question: How does this compare with more recent debates about due process for accused sexual harassers, such as those described by Laura Kipnis in Unwanted Advances?
  • Lots of questions.

Some related posts:

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When the campus sexual harassment policy doesn’t work

Which is, let’s face it, a lot.

We would all prefer a system for handling sexual harassment claims that used a fair and rigorous process of investigation and delivered proportionate consequences in a timely way. We don’t have that, for several reasons.

As I think about harassment in academic contexts, I’m struck by the problem of conferences, job changers, and cross-institution collaborations. Even if the internal process on a particular campus worked well, that would only address a subset of possible harassment cases. Academics change jobs (sometimes frequently) and they harass people who don’t work at their own institutions — but people who are nonetheless subordinates in the reputation system, or co-authors, or reviewees, or people who hope to work for the harasser or their friends and colleagues in the future. How can the campus-based system address these cases? As far as I know, it can’t. (For example, consider this good advice to graduate students about how to deal with sexual harassment, and ask how it would work if the harasser didn’t work on your campus.)

And of course even when cases fall within the jurisdiction of campus systems, these systems are often seriously flawed, inordinately focused on protecting their institutions instead of the victims (past or future) and the perpetrators are protected by tenure.

For job changers, biologist Jason Lieb, a multimillion-dollar grant recipient who quickly moved from the University of North Carolina to Princeton to Chicago, apparently trying to stay ahead of the sexual harassment and abuse cases that were trailing him, even as he continued to carry out new offenses. I don’t know what he’s doing now, but it seems that only public exposure finally dislodged him.

picture of Jason Lieb

This picture of Jason Lieb was still up on the page announcing his new job at the University of Chicago two days ago when I mentioned it on Twitter. Now the page has been taken down.

For tenure protections, consider Berkeley astronomer Geoff Macy, who got a slap on the wrist after repeated findings of responsibility for violating campus sexual harassment policies. Only after Buzzfeed blew the whistle did he lose his job. Buzzfeed also has a great story by by Tyler Kingkade about how hard it is to fire tenured professors for sexual harassment. English professor Andrew Escobedo remains on paid leave 18 months after the university concluded he sexually harassed multiple people. The story also details cases in which professors quit before they could be fired, as local investigations dragged on, which could protect them as they look for other jobs. That’s what Jasob Lieb did: “Dr. Lieb stepped down last month before any action was taken.”

Is sociology better or worse than other disciplines? We don’t know. But it looks like public exposure is necessary to apply pressure to improve this system. To that end, last week, Liana Sayer and I offered to help people bring cases in sociology to light. Read the post for more information on that.


See also: Adia Harvey Wingfield, “Are Universities Enabling Sexual Harassment and Assault?” from June, way before all this recent news. The Chronicle also had a rundown of cases the other day.

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Sexual harassment: Et tu, Sociology?

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Unrelated picture of Women’s March, January 21, 2017 / photo pnc

I once asked a journalist to cover a case of sexual harassment I knew about in a sociology department. In the discussion that followed, they told me that journalists aren’t the only ones who can do this, and that academia should police its own kind. Further, those of us who have tenure should step up and take some of the risk associated with cleaning house.

So my colleague Liana Sayer and I have an offer. If you have first-hand knowledge of sexual harassment in sociology, tell us about it. We’ll collect information and report on it.

We won’t sully reputations based on unsubstantiated rumors. But if there are serious problems going unreported, we should do something about it. We shouldn’t have to wait for someone more powerful to give us permission to speak up. Liana and I can take a little risk. And if the reputations of bad actors get damaged, that is OK — professional reputations should not be a ratchet, even if the tenure system makes it seem like they are. This has nothing to do with “witch hunts,” and everything to do with making our profession safe and productive and equitable.

As sociologists, we know that many, probably most, professional women have experienced sexual harassment in their training or careers — and we know that both the prevalence and impact of such experiences is shaped by the cultural and institutional context within which they work. In economics, a feminist initiative has taken on the “pervasive misogyny” in the field, prompted by furor over the discipline’s anonymous rumor board. In sociology we have not yet had such a catalyst.

Here’s our proposed procedure: Send an email to my gmail address (philipncohen@), tell us as much as you’re comfortable with, or simply ask us to call you. You can do this individually or in groups. We won’t discuss it with anyone at all until we’ve contacted you and agreed on how to proceed. We’ll ask you for more information if we need to. Before anything goes public, we will take steps to verify anything we can, and corroborate with witness, and so on — like the reporters do — with your permission. Then, with your permission,  we will report on the findings, and name names. This will include giving the alleged bad actor a chance to respond, but only after we are satisfied that there’s something to report regardless of their response.

If we don’t hit a threshold for what we consider responsible reporting, we won’t report anything. Of course, you can tell anyone else, including journalists or the police, any time. We’re not trying to get an exclusive, we’re trying to shine a light.

We are not defining sexual harassment in advance here; there are legal and normative definitions you can follow or not. We don’t need to meet a legal standard to speak up, but we need to be responsible and ethical.

If no one contacts us and nothing comes of it, great. If instead people decide to use some other method and ignore this, that’s great. If people talk about this issue just to say how much they hate me or I’m trying to get attention or I’m acting badly, that’s probably a good thing, too. If you think we’re just virtue signaling, we’re OK with that. If you conclude, “Oh they just want everyone to know they’re against sexual harassment,” that’s great — despite its bad rap, “virtue signaling” is also how norms happen. (On the other hand, if we get swamped with messages we’ll have to decide how to triage the cases. With your permission, we might recruit help.)

We hope this will be part of elevating the discussion to the point at which we start to take steps to improve the situation more systematically. We want to see better policies and practices, which could at at the level of the American Sociological Association, our colleges and universities, or our departments. In light of the obvious retreat in federal policy toward Title IX and sex discrimination enforcement, we need to find creative, proactive responses. We hope evidence will help.

Disclaimers: We’re not lawyers, and we don’t give legal advice. We’re not doing this as a part of our job duties at the University of Maryland. If a court forces us to turn over what we have, we will. My lay understanding of the open documents rules in Maryland is that our private email is not subject to records requests to the state, but I could be wrong. If you choose to contact us, you’re trusting us to do our best, and we will do our best. We can’t promise any result (or any response at all if we don’t know what to do). If we fail and it becomes a disaster and people try to fire or sue us, I hope we’ll figure out how to win it.

 

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Sociology’s culture of trust, don’t verify

Replication in sociology is a disaster. There basically isn’t any. Accountability is something a select few people opt into; as a result, mostly people with nothing to hide ever have their work verified or replicated. Even when work is easily replicable, such as that using publicly available datasets, there is no common expectation that anyone will do it, and no support for doing it; basically no one funds or publishes replications.

Peer review is good, but it’s not about replicability, because it almost always relies on the competence and good faith of the authors. Reviewers might say, “This looks funny, did you try this or that?” But if the author says, “Yes, I did that,” that’s usually the end of it. Academic sociology, in short, runs on a system of trust. That’s worth exactly what it’s worth. It doesn’t have to be this way.

I thought of this today when I read the book excerpt by Mark Regnerus in the Wall Street Journal. (I haven’t read his new book, Cheap Sex yet, although I called the basic arguments a “big ball of wrong” three years ago when he first published them.) Regnerus opens that essay with a single quote supposedly from an anonymous 24-year-old recent college graduate that absolutely perfectly represents his thesis:

If you know what girls want, then you know you should not give that to them until the proper time. If you do that strategically, then you can really have anything you want…whether it’s a relationship, sex, or whatever. You have the control.

(Regnerus argues men have recently gained control over sex because women have stopped demanding marriage in exchange for it.)

Scholars and readers in sociology don’t normally question whether specific quotes in qualitative research are real or not. We argue over the interpretation, or elements of the research design that might call the interpretation into question (such as the method of selecting respondents or a field site). But if we simply don’t trust the author, what do we do? In the case of Regnerus, we know that he has lied, a lot, about important things related to his research. So how do you read his research in a discipline with no norm of verification or replicability, a discipline naively based on trust? The fake news era is here; we have to address this. Fortunately, every other social discipline already is, so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Tackling it

Of course there are complicated issues with different kinds of sociology, especially qualitative work. It’s one of the things people wrestled with in the Contexts forum Syed Ali and I organized for the American Sociological Association on how to do ethnography right.

That forum took place in the wake of all the attention Alice Goffman received for her book, and article, On the Run (my posts on that are under this tag). One person who followed that controversy closely was law professor Steven Lubet, who has written a new book titled, “Interrogating Ethnography: Why Evidence Matters,” which addresses that situation in depth. The book comes out October 20, at a conference at Northwestern University’s law school. I will be one of a number of people commenting on the book and its implications.

inteth

I hope you can come to the event in Chicago.

Finally, regardless of your opinion on recent controversies in sociology, if you haven’t read it, I urge you to read (and, if you’re in such a position, require that your students read) “Replication in Social Science,” by Jeremy Freese and David Peterson, in the latest Annual Review of Sociology (SocArXiv preprint; journal version). Freese and Peterson refer to sociology as “the most undisciplined social science,” and they write:

As sociologists, the most striking thing in reviewing recent developments in social science replication is how much all our neighbors seem to be talking and doing about improving replicability. Reading economists, it is hard not to connect their relatively strict replication culture with their sense of importance: shouldn’t a field that has the ear of policy-makers do work that is available for critical inspection by others? The potential for a gloomy circle ensues, in which sociology would be more concerned with replication and transparency if it was more influential, but unwillingness to keep current on these issues prevents it from being more influential. In any case, the integrative and interdisciplinary ambitions of many sociologists are obviously hindered by the field’s inertness on these issues despite the growing sense in nearby disciplines that they are vital to ensuring research integrity.

That paper has some great ideas for easy reforms to start out with. But we need to get the conversation moving. In addition developing replication standards and norms, we need to get the next generation of sociologists some basic training in the (jargon alert!) political economy of scholarly communication and the publishing ecosystem. The individual incentives are weak, but the need for the discipline to act is very strong. If we can at least get sociologists to be vaguely aware of the attention to this issue generated in most other social science disciplines, it would be a great step forward.

Incidentally, Freese will also present on the topic of replication at the O3S: Open Scholarship for the Social Sciences symposium SocArXiv is hosting at the University of Maryland later this month; still time to register!

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Advice for and about ASA

Last summer the incoming American Sociological Association President, Michèle Lamont, asked me to offer some advice to ASA about open access publishing issues. It was an open-ended request, and I didn’t know how to go about it. My understanding of ASA is that it is not well outfitted as a change agent; it’s much more likely to respond to external developments in its ecosystem than to take the lead, especially when its revenue stream is at stake. Nevertheless, lots of good people work in and around the association, and it has great capacity. (I am involved myself, as co-editor of the ASA magazine Contexts, as chair-elect of the Family Section, and as secretary treasurer of the Population Section.) So I wrote a short essay on what ASA might do, or what its members might do or demand of it.

It’s not coincidental that this is posted on the SocArXiv blog, SocOpen, which is part of that changing external environment that I hope will lead to ASA adapting for the better. I believe that devoting my energy to this project is producing something tangible for research and scholarly communication, while also pressuring ASA (and maybe other associations) to move in the right direction.

I hope you’ll read it on SocOpen.

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