From the category archives:

Academia

Few colleges are talking opening about what instruction will look like in the Fall, and my prediction is that it will be a while before they do. There is an elephant in the room, which college administrators are well aware of, but most college faculty and the general public are oblivious to.

Here’s what we are all aware of. A decision about whether to continue with ‘alternative’ delivery (i.e., online teaching) in the fall may affect acceptance rates for selective colleges. A student may have her heart set on attending College X, but probably her heart is set on actually being there in person, and if she thinks that her first semester there will be online she may well choose, instead, to go to College Y, which also seems pretty good, if she thinks that College Y will be in person. (For simplicity’s sake I am ignoring the possibility that sophomores etc might decide just to skip a semester or a year, if we stay online in the Fall—that possibility matters a lot for the financial stability of the institutions, but not for what I am going to tell you). So, assuming that we are allowed to make choices about whether or not to be open in-person, there will be huge pressure to go in-person.

Here’s the complication.

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Sunday photoblogging: Bantry House, Cork (2008)

by Chris Bertram on April 5, 2020

Bantry House, Cork, Ireland (2008)

So here’s an idea I’d like to float in our virtual common room. In the last 10-20 years, there has been a lot of discussion in contemporary normative political philosophers on methods. Yet in my view, methods are always depending on the aim/goal/function of the analysis one wants to do. So, what is the work we are doing aiming at, exactly? The work of that part of political philosophy does different things, including spelling out what normative notions mean (conceptual work), developing theories of certain values (e.g. a theory of justice, a theory of freedom as non-domination), developing theories on particular problems (e.g. a theory arguing for open borders), and of course, many of us spend a lot of our energies showing that certain arguments other philosophers advance in pursuing the above research agenda’s are wrong, or have shortcomings and how these could be fixed; or whether the many views and reasons advanced in this kind of research are philosophically distinct, i.e. whether they cannot be reduced to a more fundamental reason given for a certain view.

But one could also do philosophical work in this tradition whereby one is, as a philosopher, firstly, not explicitly introducing one’s own values to this debate; yet, secondly, one is nevertheless trying to provide a constructive input for politics (public policy making and the democratic debate), and, thirdly, one is not coming up with a specific recommendation for a policy or an institutional change, but instead making some less specific recommendations.

We could call this method a ‘normative audit’ (or ‘ethical audit’ might also work, but let’s proceed with one name). How would this work?
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Sunday photoblogging: Cardiff arcade, 2008

by Chris Bertram on March 29, 2020

During the lockdown, time to go through the archives

Cardiff arcade, 2008

One of the most wonderful aspects of academia is to be able to discuss with colleagues and (graduate) students the analyses and thoughts one is developing. We critically discuss each other’s ideas, give feedback, are able to test embryonic ideas we have, debate issues and come up with joint ideas or projects. Now that we are locked up in our own homes, we are not only missing out on the purely human interaction with our colleagues and students (chatting about music, food, politics and so on), but also missing out on the intellectual stimulation that academia as a physical space to meet offers us.

Is there any role that blogs that are hosted by academics (whether or not mixed with non-academics, such as ours), can play to compensate for the loss of interaction that is caused by physical isolation due to the pandemic? [click to continue…]

Sunday photoblogging: Alderman Moore’s allotments

by Chris Bertram on March 22, 2020

We’ve mostly confined outselves to the house now, because of the threat of COVID-19, but Alderman Moore’s allotments provide a safeish place to get some sunshine and grow some vegetables. If the lockdown reaches Italian, Spanish, or French levels then perhaps we couldn’t continue, which would be a pity.

Alderman Moore's allotments

Free readings!

by Ingrid Robeyns on March 21, 2020

Many of us are currently locked up, in one way or another. For some of us this means no time for leisure – the people who are ill, the health workers currently making heroic double and triple shifts, workers struggling to get their work done in a virtual way, and parents and other careworkers being overwhelmed by the 24/7 homeschooling and carework. But for others, it means more time to read or watch movies, since there is nowhere to go. And given that acts of kindness and solidarity are now especially important, it’s nice to see that some publishing houses are putting out some of their book for free for everyone to download. Thanks!

Let’s share what we know is available. Here’s a start – Verso is offering 5 books (in ebook format) for free, which are all contributions to the post-pandemic world we might want to strive for.

And of course, pandemic or no pandemic, fully open access academic publishers, such as Open Book Publishers, are always providing us with free readings. Not all PDFs are for free, but some are, including Noam Chomsky’s Delhi Lectures on Democracy and Power.

Have you come across other intellectual, artistic, entertaining or otherwise valuable resources that have been made freely available to all?

Waiting for the wave to break

by Chris Bertram on March 18, 2020

Months at home. Months working remotely. Months during which we may see close friends, family, and even neighbours on a screen. Here in the UK we aren’t at Italian levels of disease and death yet, but we’re getting there.

The streets are getting empty, yet despite government advice, there are still people in pubs and bars and on our local community Facebook page people argue vociferously for the right of publicans to open. After all, “they have a living to make”, and “it is a personal choice.” I doubt people will be saying such things in a month.

In theory we (by which I mean the people in my immediate workplace) are all working from home, but I confess that the anxiety, fuelled by the news cycle, the constant rush of social media updates on CV19 isn’t conducive to concentration. Meetings are happening via Zoom or Skype Business, but a good part of each meeting is taken up with people saying “I can hear you but I can’t see you”, “I can see you but I can’t hear you”, “I think I pressed the wrong button”. There’s alway one person who thinks the sound isn’t working, so you can see them, bemused, trying to fix the problem with someone else in their house, in a loud voice, believing that they are cut off from us all when they’re not. Nice to see people’s pets though, and their bookshelves and decor for that matter. [click to continue…]

Zoom

by John Quiggin on March 17, 2020

I just gave my first UQ departmental seminar using Zoom. As in most places, our usual practice is to have visiting speakers present their work and meet colleagues in the same field. When large numbers of Chinese students were prevented from returning to Australia in the first round of the coronavirus epidemic, the cost to the university’s budget was such that nearly all travel, including paying for visitors’ travel was cancelled. As it’s turned out, a good thing to. This left big gaps in the seminar program, so I volunteered to present a paper in one of the vacant slots.

By the time the seminar was scheduled to happen, budget cuts were the least of our worries. Lectures were stopped for a week while we switch to all-online teaching, and (nearly all) meetings were cancelled. So, I decided to present the talk from home using Zoom. It went quite well, even though my home Internet is a bit flaky (the much-delayed National Broadband Network is supposed to arrive here next month, and may improve things). In the subsequent discussion, it was pointed out that we could invite people from outside the department to take part. For example, one of our PhD students had a paper accepted for a conference that’s been cancelled, and could ask some of the key people who would have been there to hear the presentation.

It also struck me that we could have gone back to the originally scheduled speaker, and had them do a Zoom presentation. That leads immediately to the question: why carry on with the tradition of flying colleagues in to have them talk to us, when they could just as well do it from home (or at least, from their home campus)? The difficulties are much less than those with online-only teaching.

Of course, I would say that. I’ve been pushing the merits of videoconferencing and related technologies for decades, and regularly respond to travel invitations by offering a video presentation rather than attendance in person. But now that lots of people are experiencing the process and finding it works reasonably well (and in fact has substantial advantages), returning to the old ways once the crisis is over may be too difficult to justify, especially since our budget is going to be stringently rationed for a long time to come.

Josh DiPaolo Answers Questions about Online Teaching

by Gina Schouten on March 14, 2020

Josh DiPaolo is one of the most thoughtful and skilled teachers I know, and he has a fair bit of experience teaching online. So once I thought about this transition long enough to start feeling really overwhelmed by it, Josh was my first call. And he was generous enough to spend some time writing out answers to questions supplied by graduate students in my department. I’ve pasted our emailed “conversation” below.

One of my favorite things about Josh’s responses is his insistence that we bear in mind all the other ways that our students’ lives are difficult right now. Some of these are quite severe, but others are mundane and it’s fully within our control to avoid compounding the difficulty. For example, Josh reminds us that our students, just like us, are overwhelmed right now with emails. So especially in these early days, we should take extra care in crafting our communications to them so as to avoid the need for repeated follow-ups to correct or clarify. We can try to be a warm and calm voice for them, or at least work hard to avoid adding to their stress and anxiety.

There are lots of gems in here. Here’s one of my favorites:

“One bit of advice I’ve seen floating around seems right and relevant to this question. The idea is something like: ‘You’re not now teaching an online class. You’re moving your face to face class online.’ What this means to me is that the question at hand is not what’s the best way to assess student learning online. It’s more like: what’s the best (or maybe even just a good) way to assess student learning, given that half the semester was in person and that students enrolled in this class with certain expectations and that now I have to assess it using online tools in the context of a worldwide pandemic?”

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COVID-19 and migration: we need a firewall

by Chris Bertram on March 10, 2020

Rather obviously COVID-19 is a global public health emergency. Tackling it, particularly in the absence of a vaccine, means blocking and shortening the chains of contagion through personal hygiene and social distancing, identifying people who are infected, treating those who need treatment, enabling the isolation of the infected for as long as they can transmit. & cetera. And the issue is not just about the risk to each of us, but also about the risk we bring to others. So the fact that the fit and young may escape with minor discomfort shouldn’t lead them to exempt themselves from necessary measures, because the chain that leads from them can be a death sentence for a vulnerable or elderly person.

All of which brings me to immigration and, specifically, to immigrant populations. In recent years governments with good public health systems have moved to restrict access to citizens and legal permanent residents. In the UK, one of the features of the “hostile environment” that has led to the Windrush scandal was the denial of medical care to people who couldn’t prove their entitlement. Others have been hit with enormous medical bills because of their nationality and perceived immigration status. But now, obviously, we can’t have a situation where people are deterred from seeking help because they fear being hit with a huge payment. [click to continue…]

Sunday photoblogging: St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol

by Chris Bertram on March 8, 2020

I took advantage of being on strike to do some Bristol tourism, and enjoyed looking round St Mary Redcliffe particularly: a gothic wonder that I pass every day but because it is local only seem to enter once a week.

St Mary Redcliffe

The Prodigal Tech Bro

by Maria on March 6, 2020

FYI I have a new piece up on The Conversationalist about that second most fungible resource; privilege.

“The Prodigal Tech Bro is a story about tech executives who experience a sort of religious awakening. They suddenly see their former employers as toxic, and reinvent themselves as experts on taming the tech giants. They were lost and are now found. They are warmly welcomed home to the center of our discourse with invitations to write opeds for major newspapers, for think tank funding, book deals and TED talks. These guys – and yes, they are all guys – are generally thoughtful and well-meaning, and I wish them well. But I question why they seize so much attention and are awarded scarce resources, and why they’re given not just a second chance, but also the mantle of moral and expert authority.”

World Book Day – January round-up

by Maria on March 5, 2020

OK it’s World Book Day and as it’s too depressing to work today because – freelance life – God knows when I’ll get paid for anything anyway, and it’s been raining for years, and I frankly have no idea what sort of blog-posts I’m supposed to or able to write these days (but word to the wise, all sarcastic, shitty, trolly or otherwise unpredictably dislikable comments that I won’t define but I know one when I see it will get zapped and their posters banned from here on in because I am DONE with this and I hope some of our lovely women commenters can come back but I completely understand if you, too, are DONE with this), I am going to do a round-up of books I read in January because that may be remotely of interest to some, and no, I will not be pressing the edit button, back button, etc. so this really, really just is what it is.

There are a lot of books because 1) post-Christmas reading days and 2) a holiday I took to beat the winter blues which clearly was worth every penny spent on it.

Rosewater, Tade Thompson, first of a trilogy
Aliens in near-future Nigeria, a new city and its politics built around them, psychic powers, traffic jams, necklacing, biological imperialism and a very good dog. Everyone in SF-world raved about this trilogy and I now see why. It’s fascinating, exciting, much of human life jammed in, funny, clear-eyed, terrific world-building and does so much with and to a well-worn premise that it is completely re-defined – kind of like the first time I heard Radiohead’s Pablo Honey I thrilled to each jewel in its treasure chest of influence, but the second time and ever after, all I heard was the band itself, almost sui generis. A sentence from Rosewater about the alien presence, Wormwood: “When Wormwood surges into awareness, we are unimpressed, even in our knowledge that it is the most significant event in Earth’s history. We’ve seen colonisers before, and they are similar, whether intercontinental or interplanetary.” Read it.
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Sunday photoblogging: Mount Pleasant, Bristol

by Chris Bertram on March 1, 2020

Mount Pleasant, BS3