May 17, 2013, 12:18 pm
My friend “Jana” sent her most promising manuscript to a journal that we’ll call The Ivy League Business Review. She received immediate confirmation that it was received, although the e-mail did not indicate whether or when it would be sent out for peer review.
So she waited. And waited some more. After six months of waiting, Jana politely asked about the manuscript’s status. She didn’t hear back. Two months later, she e-mailed again but with a more urgent tone. This time she received a reply from the editor. The essence was, “Thank you for your submission. Although the paper seems promising, it does not adequately fit the scope of The Ivy League Business Review. We therefore did not send it out for peer review. Best wishes.”
Jana will be coming up for tenure in two years, and having her paper pointlessly stalled for eight months was a real setback. When she told me…
May 15, 2013, 12:00 pm
About halfway through my first semester teaching American culture and society at Tsinghua University, cradle of Chinese leadership, a student asked me if we could watch a movie—something about “American culture.” It was in this way that I stumbled upon a most intractable dilemma.
If you were given the opportunity of showing some of China’s future leaders one movie that encapsulated the American essence, what would it be?
Koyaanisqatsi is probably not the first movie you would think of. (Probably not even in the first 100.) The somewhat obscure Godfrey Reggio masterpiece was never in the running for mainstream acceptance and box-office gold when it was released, in 1982. Even as a cult classic, it has never attained the same level of acclaim as a Rocky Horror or an Eraserhead.
Koyaanisqatsi is a big-concept movie, and lexicographically, Koyaanisqatsi is a big concept word…
May 13, 2013, 1:38 pm
Truth, we’re told, is the first casualty of war. But as I hunker in my office bunker, the dull thud of history term papers landing on my desk, columns of sleep-deprived and anxiety-ridden students trudging past the door, I’m convinced that truth is also the first casualty of undergraduate paper writing. It is not only the historical truths trampled in the mangled and muddied papers written by my students. More insidiously, a deeper truth also suffers. Only tatters remain of the contract, implicit but immemorial, that teachers will grade student papers fairly and honestly. This shared conviction, that the students’ level of writing can be raised only if the teacher levels with them, now seems a historical artifact.
At the start of the spring semester, as with every semester, I told my students that while this was a history course, the most important thing I could teach them in 15…
May 10, 2013, 12:33 pm
As most of us learn in high school and introductory college literature courses, the central drama of early American fiction involves a resourceful man confronting head-on the wonder, dangers, and vastness of America. Natty Bumppo, the Deerslayer, roams the wilderness of central New York; Ishmael ponders the frightening endlessness of the sea; Huck Finn “lights out” for the territories. We are told that such men—and they all are men—represent the American quest for independence, space, and novelty. With a whole continent before them, these characters act on an insatiable desire, as Emerson put it, to build their own worlds.
Yet most early- and mid-19th century Americans did not experience their country as some trackless wilderness awaiting their footprints and plows but as a complex social landscape marked by continuous and profound transformations. Consider that the national…
May 8, 2013, 1:16 pm
We are puzzled by Marc Sageman’s assertion that terrorism research is stagnant.
We wholeheartedly agree that several issues regularly hinder progress. While both qualitative and quantitative research on terrorism are necessary, scholarship has gone too far in the direction of quantitative methods. A prejudice in favor of elegant models and statistics, sometimes based on poor-quality data, is not unique to terrorism research. It reflects a fashion in social science more broadly.
It is also true that there is no single academic discipline of terrorism research, which is defined by its multidisciplinary nature. Terrorists are influenced by relations among nations and their immediate communities; by the identities they choose, the groups they join in the digital or analog worlds, the costs of the…
May 6, 2013, 1:00 pm
Why not let him e-guest-lecture? (Michael Sandel of Harvard via Flickr/CC)
Are MOOCs and other online materials a threat to quality public higher education, and to our role as professors? The members of the philosophy department at San Jose State University think so. They recently issued an open letter to Michael Sandel, of Harvard University, objecting to his role in encouraging the use of MOOCs at public universities. The controversy stems from San Jose State’s contract with edX, a company that provides MOOCs, including one based on Sandel’s course on justice at Harvard. San Jose State has agreed to use materials provided by edX, but the philosophy department has refused to use Sandel’s online lectures in its courses.
I am a political theorist at a large public university, and this term, for the first…
May 2, 2013, 11:34 am
As a nation, we have no shortage of opinions about race-based affirmative action. This spring The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by a high-school student wondering if she had been rejected by the Ivy League because “I offer about as much diversity as a saltine cracker.” More than 1,200 readers commented. By the end of the week, she had been invited to appear on the Today show.
As I write, we await the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, which could limit affirmative action. In March the court announced that it would also hear arguments in a second affirmative-action case, Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, which will decide if voters in Michigan were within their constitutional rights when they approved a ballot measure banning the use of race in college admissions. By taking on those two cases, the court seems to be…
April 30, 2013, 11:32 am
September 11, 2001, triggered a wave of interest in research on terrorism. Hundreds of books, thousands of articles, and millions of comments have been posted on the Web. The federal government has stimulated research by infusing millions of dollars into the field. After the Boston Marathon bombings, it is time to reflect on what has been learned over the past 11 and a half years.
The surprise is that, over all, the same stale arguments about “how can this happen?” are debated over and over again—with very little new insight.
Yes, there has been some progress: Al Qaeda is no longer seen as an existential threat to the West in a clash of civilizations, and it is no longer believed to have deeply penetrated societies with superbly trained and fanatic sleeper cells.
The panic over an all-powerful organization has been replaced with the sober realization that neo-jihadi…
April 29, 2013, 2:40 pm
How safe would these surveillance cameras in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, make you feel? (Photo by Andrew Belenko/Flickr CC)
We were living in an age of surveillance before the Boston Marathon bombing, but the event and its investigation produced calls for much greater monitoring of our cities and our lives. The media narrative of the investigation, manhunt, and lockdown that followed the bombing was like something out of an action movie, with car chases, shootouts, and a dramatic televised ending. But it was like a science-fiction movie, too, featuring surveillance cameras, smartphones, GPS trackers, facial-recognition technology, thermal imagers, and even a robot. Hovering in the background, ready for the inevitable sequel, are the specters of police surveillance drones.
These technologies, especially the use…
April 25, 2013, 2:17 pm
I recently had a job interview. Six months after moving from Boston to New Orleans, it’s one of only a handful I’ve secured in that time. And while it’s not for a glamorous or exciting job—cashiering at a local grocery store—it’s honest work, and I’m at a point where I can’t afford to shrug off an opportunity. I won’t know if I got the job for another few days, most likely, but the interview seemed to go well.
I should be happy, crossing my fingers, optimistic that my financial situation might be starting to turn around. But I’m not happy, because I had to lie about myself to even get the interview.
None of the countless cover letters and résumés I sent out since moving here attracted any attention until, on the advice of a few friends, I scrubbed them clean of my M.F.A. and played down my five years’ experience as an adjunct teaching writing at a few colleges…