More about adjuncts

by Michael Bérubé on February 8, 2012

So my first month as president of the Modern Language Association (MLA) has turned out to be surprisingly eventful. After receiving my very own gavel with my name on it and being given access to the nuclear codes,** I returned home from the convention in Seattle to write the president’s <a href=”″>welcome letter</a>, the letter <a href=””>announcing the theme for the 2013 convention in Boston</a>, and my first (of four) newsletter columns (soon to be found in an MLA Newsletter near you, and of course on the MLA Web site). I then began the rigorous training regimen required for chairing the two-day meetings of the MLA Executive Council (February, May, October), which includes drinking egg-white smoothies and punching enormous hanging pieces of tofu in the MLA’s icy soy locker.

Then in mid-January, Executive Director Rosemary Feal and I decided I should attend the January 28 <a href=””>summit meeting</a> of the <a href=””>New Faculty Majority</a>, whose tweets I had been following on the Twitter machine. (I finally activated my account. Yes, I have a Twitter account. But I’m still not joining Facebook, now more than ever.) Washington, DC is one of the few places I can visit on short notice from my remote mountain lair, and the NFM is a group Rosemary and I want to work with during my presidential year and beyond — trying to get the US higher education apparatus (starting with the American Association of Colleges and Universities) to take seriously, and to ameliorate, the working conditions of non-tenure-track (NTT) faculty. So attending the summit, together with MLA Director of Research David Laurence, made all kinds of sense.

I reported on the summit for <a href=””>Inside Higher Ed</a>, and then posted a longer (though not Holbonian — merely 2500 words) <a href=”″>director’s cut</a> on the MLA site. Rosemary and I then Tweeted these things to the Twitterati.

And here’s where things get interesting.

[click to continue…]

The US News College Rankings Scam

by Henry Farrell on February 8, 2012

“Stephen Budiansky”:, via Cosma Shalizi’s Pinboard feed.

bq. Back in ancient times when I worked at esteemed weekly newsmagazine U.S. News & World Report, I always loathed the annual college rankings report. Like all cash cows, however, the college guide was a sacred cow, so I just shut up about its obvious statistical absurdities and inherent mendacity. As a lesson in the evils of our times, it is perhaps inevitable that the college guide is now the only thing left of U.S. News.

bq. A story in today’s New York Times reports that Claremont McKenna college has now been caught red handed submitting phony data to the college guide to boost its rankings. But the real scandal, as usual, is not the occasional flagrant instance of outright dishonesty but the routine corruption that is shot through the whole thing. … To increase selectivity (one of the statistics that go into U.S. News’s secret mumbo-jumbo formula to produce an overall ranking), many colleges deliberately encourage applications from students who don’t have a prayer of getting in. To increase average SAT scores, colleges offer huge scholarships to un-needy but high scoring applicants to lure them to attend their institution. (The Times story mentioned that other colleges have been offering payments to admitted students to retake the test to increase the school average.)

bq. … One of my favorite bits of absurdity was what a friend on the faculty at Case Law School told me they were doing a few years ago: because one of the U.S. News data points was the percentage of graduates employed in their field, the law school simply hired any recent graduate who could not get a job at a law firm and put him to work in the library. Their other tactic was pure genius: the law school hired as adjunct professors local alumni who already had lucrative careers (thereby increasing the faculty-student ratio, a key U.S. News statistic used in determining ranking), paid them exorbitant salaries they did not need (thereby increasing average faculty salary, another U.S. News data point), then made it understood that since they did not really need all that money they were expected to donate it all back to the school (thereby increasing the alumni giving rate, another U.S. News data point): three birds with one stone! (I gather the new Case law dean has put an end to these shenanigans.)

Worth reading the whole thing (even though Budiansky’s site has one of those annoying and anti-social ‘if you cut and paste text from my site, you will get unasked for cruft about how you ought to click on the original link added to your pasted text’ installations).

IUDs: Secretly Awesome

by Belle Waring on February 8, 2012

Having gotten music all over the blog, I am now going to cover it with human blood. Intrauterine devices, whether copper only or with a progestogen-releasing cylinder, are actually the most common form of reversible birth control in the world. Most of the users are in China, however (2/3 according to Wikipedia). In the U.S., IUDs suffered a fatal blow to their reputation when the defective Dalkon Shield was released, causing at least 7 deaths and many septic abortions. It was pulled from the market in 1974, but the damage was done; as a girl I was never even informed about IUDs as a method of birth control.

That wasn’t totally unreasonable because they are less effective for women who have never given birth vaginally, being more likely to be expelled. I think there was also a misguided consensus that you couldn’t dilate a woman’s cervix enough to insert the device unless she had previously given birth. Today, as I understand it, manufacturers produce a smaller size to solve this problem.

I was on the pill for about 10 years. I always had trouble with it, experiencing breakthrough bleeding (basically you get your period twice a month, no thank you) and other various side effects including, in my opinion, exacerbation of depression. I got switched around to more types than I can remember in an attempt to find one that was acceptable.

Here’s what’s great about the copper IUD: no hormones! The copper makes your womb inhospitable to a fertilized egg, for reasons that I think are still somewhat unknown. So, maybe an egg is fertilized, but it can’t attach itself and begin appropriating resources to build a placenta. I’m not sure whether this counts as baby-killing to the anti-abortion crowd; probably yes, even though the definition of getting pregnant involves a fertilized egg implanting itself in your uterus. Not just, you know, hanging around briefly. (Do these people really think when they go to heaven they will be vastly outnumbered by the souls of fertilized eggs who failed to implant and were washed away during menses? That’s going to be some boring conversation right there. Will those little dudes be casting down their teeny, tiny golden crowns around the glassy sea? I call bullshit; I don’t think anti-abortion people believe that at all.)

Insertion of the device does hurt. It only takes a few seconds, though, and then you don’t have to do anything about it for several years. The main reason women have the device removed it that it causes heavier bleeding during their period. My experience was that this was (dramatically!) true at first, but that my body then adjusted.

Obviously the IUD does nothing to protect you from STDs. But it’s not competing with condoms in this area, it’s competing with the pill. Pregnancy rates are lower when using IUDs than when being on the pill, probably because it’s very difficult to be a perfect pill user. Guys may think it sounds easy: you take one a day, end of story. But sometimes you forget if you’ve taken it or not; actions repeated so frequently have a tendency to blur together. Or you end up staying out super-late and crashing at your friend’s place. In theory you’re meant to add condoms to the mix at that point until you start taking a new set, but in real life people often don’t bother. Part of the appeal of the IUD is that you don’t have to do anything.

My only jealousy now is of the new pills where you only get your period 4 times a year. That would be great! Let’s face it: getting your period is a pain. There’s blood everywhere! Who needs it? It’s true that it can be the most welcome sight in all the world, when you have been sitting there thinking you might be pregnant, and wondering what the hell to do about it. And suddenly these is a cadmium red solution to all your problems. Otherwise: lame. So, ladies, IUDs are great and you should consider them.

UPDATES: One commenter notes that although we don’t know how the IUD works, it seems to work primarily by inhibiting fertilization, and only secondarily by preventing implantation. So we all win, including the little dudes with the tiny crowns. Another commenter who survived a pregnancy while his/her mother was using an IUD wants me to point out that this is a possibility, and that grave birth defects can result. This is true, and something my doctor mentioned to me. The failure rate is incredibly low, but if the IUD does fail the consequences can be very serious for the developing fetus (if not fatal before the fetus is viable outside the womb, which is more likely).