August 23, 2006

Anthropologist among the freshman.

How would you feel if that older woman in your classes turned out to be an anthropology professor, studying you the way she once studied the natives of Tonga?


Dave said...

I would think:

1) She's an idiot;
2) My tax dollars/tuition pay for this idiot to do these idiotic things?
3) The decline of the academy continues apace.
4) Which academic blogger will post about it and allow me to vent about the stupidity that has become the modern academy?

Editor Theorist said...

The NYT states this observation of the Freshmen students she encountered: "And they seemed indifferent to values like diversity."

Of course they were! - who could be surprised at this? (Except perhaps a professor from the arts or social sciences or a NYT journalist...).

Yet so many US universities state 'diversity' as the most prominent value on their websites.

For example, UW Madison has as the very first thing on the Student Life section: 'UW-Madison is a community that embraces diversity', as if this was the universitiy's major selling point, or as if diversity was the major attribute that students (or their parents) were looking for in a college.

What about admissions standards, academic rigour, class size, quality of faculty, academic reputation, tuition costs... There must be a dozen things more important to choice of college than diversity.

For the administration to emphasize diversity in this way is sheer incompetence, in terms of promoting a place like UM-Wisconsin. In fact, it is simply putting the advertisment of moral superiority above the well-being of the institution. But this seems to be the norm among US colleges.

I suppose it is just another example of the many ways in which the US 'liberal elites' are out of touch with the rest of the nation...

Ron said...

Has she learned nothing? Her foolish violation of the Prime Directive has already led to the collapse of the natives of Jenga!

class-factotum said...

"[t]hey seemed indifferent to values like diversity"

Sort of off the subject (sorry) -- but maybe they valued people as individuals, not as groups.

Back to the subject. I would be ticked off. She had to live in a dorm to discover that college students spend as little time as possible doing homework? That they make their close friends freshman year?

Did she also learn that they like to drink beer and have sex?

Even though it's been 21 years since I graduated from college, I still remember these things. She could have just asked me.

David said...

Another Hippie trying to convince young students to jump in the 'wayback machine' on a magic, mystery tour back to a 60's mindset.

I take comfort in her complaining about their lack of interest in diversity. Welcome to the return of the "Melting Pot Theory" of America where assimilation makes our country stronger and diversity, read victocrats, makes it weaker and more dependent.

When she left Tonga she should have gone straight to Borneo to teach vegan recipes to cannibals.

Elizabeth said...

Goodness, Dave. This is hardly a deathknell for the academy.

altoids1306 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
altoids1306 said...

Actually, despite my innate libertarian scrooge-iness, I think this is pretty cool. Certainly a more productive use of anthropology department resources than her PhD thesis.

And some observations are spot on. (I was a ugrad only a few years ago.) Friendships forged early freshman year. Don't care about diversity. Professionally oriented - school is just a serious of hoops to jump through to get to whatever it is you really want to do. Rather than change the system, they figure out how to glide through it while still getting what they want. The kids have common sense, and if something is stupid or pointless, they immediately recognize it and dismiss it. If a prof has a political agenda, you write what they want to hear, get the A, move on.

altoids1306 said...

Oops, I meant to say "series" not "serious."

SippicanCottage said...

Real life catches up with fiction. The Onion is there:
Girls Gone Wild Released Back Into Civilization

Bissage said...

How would I feel once I learned I was being studied like some new species of insect?

I’d get all broken up inside.

Then I’d hurl a few thunderbolts and the Enterprise would phaser my temple. Then I’d give my version of a robot death speech and spread myself upon the winds to reunite with my fellow gods.

But hey, that’s just me.

sonicfrog said...

All depends on what the definition of "study" is....

Goesh said...

-5 hardback printings and she is on the lecture circuit - she is seeing something the rest of aren't

katiebakes said...

The part about people boasting about how little effort they were able to put forth in order to pass a class is dead on.

Students constantly talk about how they "wrote the paper in a night" or "barely studied for this exam."

After the test is taken or the paper is handed in, students fret that they "totally failed that one" or "wrote the worst paper ever."

And once they recieve what is usually a good grade, they express delight that "the curve saved me" or "the TA loves me and gave me an A."

joeone said...

How about this for an Onion-like headline: "Anthropologist discovers what everyone else knows about college students...and people in general."

PatCA said...

Oh, riiiight, professor, you wanted to be anonymous. You didn't want to sell a bunch of books and rake in the lecture dollars.

In a nutshell, college freshman act like high school students, because they have only recently graduated therefrom. I am heartened by her "angst" that the kids want practical value from their education and couldn't give a flip about boomer causes. There's hope for the republic!

knoxgirl said...

“I’m representing the angst that my own generation is having” in dealing with students these days, she said.


Bee said...

Is there not an ethical problem with her doing research without giving notice to the participants that they are in fact being observed? At my husband's academic institution, he must fill out human subject forms for all studies, which in turn have to be approved by the University before he can continue.

I didn't find reference for her doing so, and find it troubling.

dick said...

I think that her "angst" should be shelved and she should try to understand that the freshmen are rejecting her values for valid reasons. They are not there to play protestor, they are there to learn a subject and get ready to get into the work force.

I think she is just lost in her world of long ago and is trying to fit the freshmen of today into her mindset of what college should be. I think from what I have seen that the young people of today who are serious about life are doing a good job of being pragmatic. They do have time for fun but their idea of fun is not the same as hers. I vote for them over her every time.

I also think she just ran out of things to do to occupy her and decided to mess with someone else's head for a while. She struck it lucky in book sales but what she did was useless.

chica toxica said...

How would you feel if a blogger who claims to be a juridical scholar wrote a NYTimes Op-Ed based on her gleanings of comments in blogs? How about if she admits that she never even read the ruling?

Dust Bunny Queen said...

And they seemed indifferent to values like diversity.

That's because diversity is an artificial value created by the 60's generation, of which I presume she is a product. Of course they are indifferent. We want to be with people who reflect ourselves. I know.....not PC. But true and has been for millenniums.

Wickedpinto said...

Up close, she found that they could be intellectually engaged, but that rather than engaging in political or philosophical discussions, students were more likely to talk about how they pulled off specific assignments, often with a minimum of effort.

Prolly cuz the students are smarter than a lot of the professors, and are disgusted at the ease with which they can skate through classes they are paying too much money to attend, only to find out they are getting mediocre grades cuz they won't engage in the self congratulatory bean bag shake a lot of these self important instructors think is necessary for a proper education.

The mutual masturbation of "discussing" thing that they already know for themselves, as proven by the apparent ease with which they pass the classes, seems to be a waste of time, and they would rather go back, change their clothes, go to work so they can afford the overpriced semi-education they have to endure so that they can have a prosperous job in the real world, only to be stuck with other self congratulatory scumbags who will patronize them in the same way as various random anthropology professors, only this time the patronizing scum are paying them rather than paying for the priveledge of being mistreated.

But what do I know. OOK OOK, RAWR! OOK OOK!

Dave TN said...

Bee said...
Is there not an ethical problem with her doing research without giving notice to the participants that they are in fact being observed?

I agree with Bee. The first thought I had was that you can't have human research subjects without having them know and approve of being in the study. Seems like an extreme violation of academic ethics.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

I think it's intriguing to get a do-over.

Every now and then I'd like one myself.

howzerdo said...

Sounds like an interesting book to me, even though it sounds as if she didn't follow appropriate protocols for human subjects research. From the article, her observations are basically the same as my experiences with teaching undergraduates. Anyway, thanks for the link - I just went to Amazon and ordered a copy of the book.

sparky said...

i'd think it was great. maybe i'd learn something about the mechanisms of that culture.

also, perhaps i could read the text and learn how to get in on those secret rituals....

Jeremy said...

I would speculate that a dispropostionate number of folks that aren't interested in diversity are white. Most people like to be with other people that are most like them. That means that all the black kids sit together in the cafeteria. It also means that minority students like schools with lots of other minorities.

White people tend to do this too, but don't always realize it, because it tends to be the default.

So if you were an ethnic minority, you might be more interested in a school that says, "You're not going to stick out like a sore thumb. You will find other people like you here."

I think that's the intention anyway.

Henry said...

Like others, I'm happy to hear that students are concerned with practical education.

And I don't think Small is totally off base. A friend who teaches freshmen composition at a similar type of school is astonished by the disinterest of the students. They don't even want to talk about television.

Long ago I taught freshman drawing at a state university. In about every class, there were two or three high-achieving students who paid attention and did all the work plus an equal number (not necessarily the same ones) capable of working on their own initiative. The rest were what they were. It didn't bother me much, but then, I was just trying to teach a practical skill.

PatCA said...

That's right, Bee. I'd like to know what their IRB thinks of this study!

Balfegor said...

I would speculate that a dispropostionate number of folks that aren't interested in diversity are white.

On the contrary, the vast majority of people I've met who are interested in "diversity" have been white. I've never heard any minority express an interest in "diversity," per se. Or at least, not until I started working in the real world (or a close approximation thereof), at which point the "diversity" buzzword did enter peoples' actual speech, if not their normal conversation. I'm not sure whether there's an interest in "diversity" itself, though, apart from the corporate-speak.

That said, your point about not sticking out like a sore thumb is true. But that just means we're interested in a place where there's lots of people like us, not that we're interested in a place that is "diverse." Few Black students object to Howard because it's full of Black students. Few Asian students object to Berkeley or UCLA because they're full of Asians.

J said...

To paraphrase David Spade, I liked this book the first time I read it, when it was called "Fast Times at Ridgemont High". At least Crowe limited himself to writing a good book and selling the movie rights, rather than inflicting a speaking tour about the angst his generation was having dealing with high schools students on us.

XWL said...

I lived amongst the freshman in '01-'02 as a 32 year old returning student living in a dorm (I was the oldest in my building, but not the oldest in the dorms, there was a 40+ grad student in a different dorm)

I should have been an Anthro major, instead of paying the campus for staying in the dorms, I could have got them to pay me for the research I was conducting, oh well.

Also, I concur with Balfegor's observations about 'diversity'. As a 'mixed-race' person myself, I am deeply offended on a personal level by identity politics. On the one hand the diversity pimps emphasize the 'social construct' nature of the concept of 'race', and rightly so, but at the same time they continue to divide peoples by these false social constructs and are determined that collective guilt for the 'privileged' and individual absolution from responsibility due to the guilt of others for the 'underprivileged' are concepts that should be championed.

BJK said...

In attempting to channel my inner Freshman....I've got to say that it probably wouldn't have affected me that much. Two potential exceptions:

1) She was particularly attractive (haven't looked at the article, so I don't know if there's a picture or not),
2) She was one of the people bombarding the Professor / TA with questions, proving that she either didn't do the reading or didn't understand it.

Beyond those two subsets, chances are she'd just have been one of the nameless faces in a giant lecture hall. Isn't that what Freshman year is all about? (That, and learning to write what your TA wants to read / grade.)

Pogo said...

She would have saved considerable time had she read Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons.

But I can't wait to read her me-too version. Especially where she discovers cheating, beer, sex, music, parents, university politics, and the fear of graduating. Should be an exciting read.

Next project? She gets a real job and finds out it sorta sucks to be paid minimum wage, so 'stay in school, kids'. It's been done? So what?

Daryl Herbert said...

What reasons might my generation have for not caring so much about diversity?

It's very similar to how we supposedly don't care about feminism, and "feminist" is a dirty word (representing extremists). But at the same time, "we're all feminists now": almost everyone believes in basic precepts of women's equality.

We pretty much all believe racism is bad, and that the government is already doing enough (maybe too much!) to combat it. So why should we get excited about it? The problem, to the extent it still exists, is being taken care of.

On top of all this, we're scolded that we aren't caring enough? That's exactly the best way to provoke eye-rolling and apathy.

JorgXMcKie said...

Couple things.

First, I returned to college in my late 30s to finish my BS. That was 20 years ago. Students then were pretty much like she describes now, except it was a flagship state uni and they had to study harder at that time. They were very concerned with grades, but not necessarily with academics. Very job oriented. Very inexperienced in very many ways.

Second, I currently teach about 80 freshmen a semester, and she could have learned most of this (as interesting as it is) by teaching a big intro class, paying attention to the frosh, and having a lot of them come in for office hours. With the exception of the door coverings and message boards, I have seen everything she reports this way.

Third, although I am 'of her generation' and am a veteran of the '60s and have more than occasionally looked like a hippie, I don't share what appears to be the belief set many of the commenters here attribute to her. Yes, the Boomers think that all the important stuff in the world started and remains with them, but we're not all Boomers in that sense. Many of the Boomers being complained about indeed have not and simply seem unable to consider what might be underlying the behaviors of our current young people, but not all of us.

Finally, if you believe (as I do) that your intro class has and should have value to your students now and in their future, it is up to you to communicate this very early in a way that makes sense to them.

Jeremy said...

Point well taken in regards to "diversity" and well, actual diversity.
That said, it seems pretty rational for universities to make themselves as attractive to as wide a base as possible as it allows them to 1)tighten admission requirements while maintaining rolls to increase prestige or 2)maintain requirements while increasing rolls to raise revenue.

I realize that that's not strictly how diversity promotion programs work, but again, I think the concept is sound.

Synova said...

“I’m representing the angst that my own generation is having” in dealing with students these days, she said.


knoxgirl, I agree. Ugh. It sounds like she thinks angst is a *good* thing.

PatCA said...

I heard a student giving a tour to incoming freshmen..."and we're very divergent here, so you can always find someone to hang with."

Divergent! LOL.

Kirk Parker said...

To all you who wondered about informed consent: Uhh, she's an anthropologist. What she did wasn't experimenting on them in the sense of subjecting them to unknown/untested foods, chemicals, sounds, etc. She was just living there and observing what they did. What if an 18-year-old freshman decided to write a book about their freshman year? Would they need consent form from everyone they noticed, too?

Johnny Nucleo said...

Wow, nice new photo. Va-voom!

What I want to know is why didn't she just talk to the kids? Isn't that what you do with a book like this?

Does she think her pointless ruse made any kind of difference? If it were a "Black Like Me" thing, if she somehow convinced them she was an 18 year old freshman, then I could see it, but otherwise it's stupid.

This is the thing about the soft sciences. They are very soft.

Elizabeth said...

Housing is hard to come by these days in New Orleans, and a lot of faculty at my university lost their homes when the nearby levee broke after Katrina. Some of those have found apartments or are living with friends, others are living in tiny, rickety trailers that they have to flee in rough weather. Still others have been allowed to rent apartments in our condo-style student housing development.

I know it's better than the trailer.

But I think I'd rather live in my car than with my students. I love them, really. I enjoy them, the sad and messy and the perky overachievers alike. But I don't want them down the hall from me. Unless I could write a book and make some bucks on it. I wonder if any research is going on over there?

cspinuzzi said...


It doesn't matter if she's performing dangerous experiments or not. If she plans to publish based on her research, she needs to develop a human subjects proposal and send it through her institutional research board. The principle is to ensure that researchers protect their research participants through informed consent, through anonymity if necessary, and through secure data storage.

It's an onerous procedure, and my grad students are always wondering if it's really necessary. It is, both regulatively and ethically.

In the article, Cathy Small said that she published under a pseudonym so that she could protect the anonymity of her participants. That didn't work out so well, did it? And some of the participants could be materially harmed by loss of anonymity, especially the ones who rely on parents for support or who told secrets that they did not expect to be published. A competent IRB could have examined the anthropologist's procedures, recommended better ways to preserve anonymity, and provided institutional support should these procedures fail, as they did.

PatCA said...

I'll second what you said. I would imagine the admin at her institution is quite nervous right now about an audit.

37383938393839383938383 said...

I would be like, was she just humoring me when I was flirting with her? Because she really doesn't need to put all the nasty stuff I said into her case study. And, I was just kidding, anyway. I knew she was an anthropologist; I was just playing around. Ahem.

Rusty said...

Being a professor and having raised kids to adulthood, I could have told her this and saved her a lot of time.

Did she make out with drunk frat boys? Hope not. That would be carrying research too far.

(What sort of college students wouldn't spot her for a narc of some kind and modify their behavior in her presence?)