Not Again

March 30, 2010

This image has been posted with express written permission.

This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.

End Of The Line

March 30, 2010

This image has been posted with express written permission.

This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.

This image has been posted with express written permission.

This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.

Casting Stones

March 30, 2010

This image has been posted with express written permission.

This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.

In Character:

You don’t know who you are messing with.” According to the Cambridge police report, those are the words Henry Louis Gates uttered when Sgt. James Crowley arrested the Harvard professor for disorderly conduct in July 2009. With this incident, the American public was treated to yet another national conversation about race.

The more interesting conversation, however, was about class. It’s not simply that Gates and his friend Barack Obama (who defended Gates’s behavior in a prime-time news conference) make a lot more money than Crowley, though they do, or that they don’t drink beer regularly or go bowling, though they don’t. It’s that the professor and the president come from the rarified world of academia.

University professors are not among the most humble members of our society. Populist right-wing politicians can hardly find easier punching bags than some of the blowhards on college campuses. But how did we get from Socrates’ famous dictum, “All I know is that I know nothing” to Skip Gates’s “Don’t you know who I am?”

The loss of humility among teachers — and particularly college faculty — is traceable to a number of structural, political, and cultural changes that have occurred both inside the academy and out.

When looking at the academy today, it is instructive to start at the bottom, because the way we treat the people beneath us in rank is inevitably a sign of how we view our own place in the universe. Young graduate students trying to earn PhDs spend six or seven years acting as teaching and research assistants for tenured senior faculty, doing the grunt work of grading papers, meeting with students, and finding citations for their supervisors’ publications. In all likelihood, they get paid less than $20,000 a year for doing it. It is hard not to sympathize with the graduate students who have attempted to form unions in the past decade. Administrators and senior faculty, however, regularly refer to graduate school as an apprenticeship, implying that these conditions are necessary in order to move up the ladder.

Once graduate students achieve their terminal degree (or sometimes before), they begin teaching on an “adjunct” basis — that is, they’re not working toward a more senior or more permanent position. These teachers, sometimes referred to as “contingent labor,” receive barely minimum wage, often have to work at multiple institutions to make ends meet, have no opportunities for research, and are often restricted to one-year contracts. They have little time to spend mentoring students because they are off to their next job right after class.

Still, having a large class of people below you to pick up your slack is not a sufficient reason for the academy’s arrogance. After all, there are even corporate CEOs out there with a sense of humility. Their secretaries may be paid much less, but at least some opportunities for advancement exist.

Senior academics see themselves as a class apart from other professions. Tenure, for instance, offers them job stability found in no other profession save perhaps the clergy. The claim for tenure rests on the notion that professors’ academic freedom must be protected. And academic freedom has become an all-purpose invocation — the ivory tower’s “get out of jail free card” — that professors have used to defend all sorts of silly, if not fraudulent, scholarship and classroom behavior that borders on the outrageous…

Read it all.

The Economist:

MYTH and fantasy populate the world with “othermen”—the elves, goblins, dwarfs and giants that live in the wild wood, in the cave or on the high mountain peak. Not animal, but not quite human either, they feed fear and imagination in equal quantity. Nor are such creatures merely the province of the past and the poetaster. The story of the yeti—the abominable snowman that haunts the Himalaya—has provoked serious investigation by explorers hoping to find not-quite-human humans. Sadly, there is nothing there. But not so long ago there might have been. For a bunch of explorers of a different sort, using DNA sequences instead of hiking boots, have discovered a real otherman from the mountains of Asia.

Svante Paabo, of the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, was the inspiration for Michael Crichton’s novel “Jurassic Park”. His group extracts and sequences genetic material from fossils, and has produced DNA analyses of both mammoths and Neanderthal man. Their latest object of study is a finger bone found in a cave in the Altai Mountains of southern Siberia (pictured above). The team Dr Paabo assembled to look at this bone, led by Johannes Krause, assumed it was either from an early modern human or a Neanderthal, both of whom once lived in the area. What they found shocked them. It was neither.

The new, as yet unnamed species—the first to be defined solely by its DNA—is unveiled in this week’s Nature. Anatomically, it consists of the distal manual phalanx of the fifth digit or, in layman’s parlance, the tip of the little finger. Even by the standards of palaeontology, one of whose early practitioners, Georges Cuvier, claimed to be able to extrapolate an entire animal from a single bone, declaring a species from evidence this slight would be ambitious. It was not the bone itself, though, but what was in it, that allowed Dr Krause and Dr Paabo to be so confident.

Read it all.

Reaching Out

March 30, 2010

Via IBD

Obama Was Right

March 30, 2010

This image has been posted with express written permission.

This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.

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