My university is done toying with the idea of introducing a new faculty rank, namely that of “Senior Lecturer.” We’re past that point and onto the actual implementation: the first applicants for this new position are vying for this designation as I write this.

The rationale for this position, as it reads in the Faculty Senate document creating the rank, is as follows:

a) Long-serving lecturers have no opportunity for promotion or advancement other than the issuance of a three- or five-year contract. The creation of Senior Lecturers allows us to recognize and promote lecturers who have become integral long-term members of the faculty.

b) The expectation that lecturers complete Professional Development Plans, which were intended to be used when deciding whether or not a new contract should be issued, is being removed because these PDPs aren’t being used in these decisions. This policy was never enacted, and, as it adds another layer of evaluation, is not necessary.

Sounds all well and good, no?

But the unstated motivation behind the institution of this new rank is more along the lines of the following:

  1. A couple of years ago the university reinstated professional development leave (PDL; this is the fancy name we give to sabbatical in a [read: Red] state where you can’t say “sabbatical” because that implies otiosity) for tenure-track faculty, a practice that had been discontinued for many years due to its unsustainability.
  2. Unsurprisingly, lots of folks wanted PDLs.
  3. We approved way too many PDLs, leading to unsustainable reliance on contingent faculty to continue delivering our curriculum.

How does this tie into the creation of new rank? A little provision buried more deeply in the Senate doc cited above:

…Senior Lecturers have a 12-hour teaching load, and are evaluated using the same processes and forms as tenure-line faculty…


It’s the case that many of our lecturers, especially those serving our much-vaunted Humanities Program (our dusty “jewel in the crown” that rests upon the backs of contingent faculty because many of our best and brightest would prefer to teach in their own departments), are currently teaching 16-hour-per-term loads. This load, though admittedly much more humane than the load many adjuncts carry, is still unsustainable for anyone who hopes to have a meaningful academic life outside of their regular teaching. Such a load essentially precludes any sort of in-depth scholarship, university service, community engagement, mentorship of undergraduates, or other rewarding aspects of an academic career our tenure-track folks enjoy. Forget being participatory citizens; these lecturers struggle simply to teach their classes. (Never mind the fact that the same paragraph that the second quote above comes from notes that Senior Lecturer is a rank reserved for “members of the faculty who have…demonstrated noteworthy accomplishments in scholarship and/or service, in addition to high-quality teaching…”)

Well, word on the streets is that now that this new rank is in the works, there will be a push to require all non-Senior-Lecturer lecturers to teach 16 hours per term. I’m not sure how those who’ve not already put together a portfolio showcasing “noteworthy accomplishments in scholarship and/or service, in addition to high-quality teaching” will be able to do so while teaching those 16 hours. Will we see no more Senior Lecturer applications after an initial bump in these first few years following the rank’s inception?

Let’s get back to the bigger issue here: equity. Some of our university’s most amazing faculty (outstanding teachers, solid scholars, engaged members of the campus community and the broader area we serve) are in the Lecturer rank, and while some of them are recognized and appreciated for their incredible work, both in their departments and university-wide, others are not. In many corners, lecturership conveys second-class status on our campus, as it does on many campuses. Adding expectations to an already vulnerable group of folks is simply unconscionable.

I acknowledge that PDLs can be critical in giving faculty time to work on scholarly and creative projects…but at what cost? If I need time away from the classroom to finish a book or publish a few papers, I refuse to do it on the labor of the lecturers, who right now risk being strung into indentured servitude.







I’ve been absent and dealing with











and the end is in sight


Today in my voting theory class I gave students space to be, just be, given how we’ve spent the semester having hard conversations about political philosophy and given how we all had some pretty strong opinions in the wake of this past Monday’s debate.

I broke out my maker supplies. I asked them to unpack, to process, to reflect. I give you Corinne’s piece: Donald Trump, incinerating black people while brown people (a wall of Mexicans) look on, white people hovering above the fray on a billow of money, but they’re falling off (and not helping each other up); HRC looks on, shades over her eyes, boas of money draping her shoulders.


You know.

There were others.


And others.


And in the end, the mood was somber. Class ended with the realization that we simply cannot demonize the other side, that we all have legitimate reasons for feeling the way we do.

I tire of hearing my voice. I’ve made several promises to share other voices here, and that will happen soon.


The rhetoric of polling data, Part II

The rhetoric of polling data, Part II

The votes are in! Asked to complete the same exercise, my class of fifteen students (each voting as a “ten-person bloc”) voted as follows:

Round 1 (no polling data given):

  • Charmander: 32 (21.3%)
  • Squirtle: 33 (22.0%)
  • Bulbasaur: 85 (56.7%)

Round 2 (with polls showing C = 40%, S = 35%, B = 10%, and Undecided = 15%):

  • Charmander: 57 (38.0%)
  • Squirtle: 47 (31.3%)
  • Bulbasaur: 46 (30.7%)

Round 3 (with polls showing C = 30%, S = 30%, B = 27%, and Undecided = 13%):

  • Charmander: 41 (27.3%)
  • Squirtle: 44 (29.3%)
  • Bulbasaur: 65 (43.3%)

These results cannot be directly and unproblematically compared with the results from Amanda’s class, since the differing class sizes forced me to distribute the voter profiles in slightly different proportions. HOWEVER…there are some striking similarities, especially between the respective sets of results from Rounds 1 and 2: The first round, “baseline,” results were nearly identical, and except for an exchange of Charmander and Squirtle, the Round 2 results were nearly identical as well, indicating a similar willingness on the part of Bulbasaur boosters to engage in strategic voting in an attempt to avoid a Charmander/Squirtle victory after they saw the dire straits their favored candidate was foundering in.

The greatest difference arose in the results from Round 3: in Amanda’s class, the “voters” flocked to Bulbasaur more strongly, giving him a 51.8% share of the votes, versus 43.3% in my class, on seeing that how competitive his candidacy was. This is interesting, especially since only 4 out of 11 (36.4%) of Amanda’s class were given decidedly pro-Bulbasaur profiles, while 6 out of 15 (40%) of the students in my class were given such profiles. I might have to chalk this one up to the small sample sizes.

While I didn’t keep tabs on the behavior of individual voters in Amanda’s class, I did think to do this in my own, marking the ballots so that I could distinguish each student’s votes on successive rounds of voting. What can we tell from looking at this information?

Focusing on Bulbasaur’s performance, 11 out of 15 voters ranked Bulbasaur lower in Round 2 than they did in Round 2. This group of 11 voters includes 5 of the 7 voters who gave Bulbasaur more votes than any other candidate in Round 1; the remaining two Bulbasaur boosters gave their favorite 10 points in all three rounds! All but one of the 7 Bulbasaur boosters gave at least some support back to Bulbasaur in Round 3, giving him more points then than in Round 2 (and in some cases, more than they’d given him in Round 1). The behavior suggests, again, the efficacy of positive polling data in bolstering a minor-party candidate’s electoral success.

The only two voters not considered above include a clear Charmander supporter who was also okay with Bulbasaur, whose votes were Charmander 7/6/9 and Bulbasaur 3/4/1, suggesting galvanization around the favored candidate when the race tightened in the final available poll. The remaining voter clearly despised Charmander, initially voting for Squirtle over Bulbasaur 7-3, and shifting to Bulbasaur over Squirtle, 9 to 1, in both of the next rounds. I have to admit I’m not sure what profile this behavior suggests.

In any case, the data, whether considered aggregately or individually, suggest yet again a fairly strong impact of polling data on electoral behavior.

How frightened should we be? Given that West Coast states often exhibit depressed voter turnout relative to their more easterly sister states (Hawai’i consistently wins the dubious honor of having the lowest voter turnout among all fifty states), perhaps the early release of election returns on election night is enough to keep a substantial number of people at home.


The rhetoric of polling data, Part I

The rhetoric of polling data, Part I

This past Tuesday I guest-taught in my colleague Amanda’s masters-level course on political rhetoric, taught at Asheville’s branch campus of Western Carolina University, where Amanda is a faculty member. In planning for this guest appearance, I struggled for a bit to come up with a topic that would have something of a rhetorical component to it but still draw on ideas I’ve been discussing in my own voting theory course. After some thought, I developed an exercise that would (ideally) help to illustrate the rhetorical impact of numerical data specifically, poll results, on electoral behavior.

I gave each of Amanda’s ten students (and Amanda herself, good sport that she was and always is!) a “voter profile” that consisted of a brief statement of a view on the three candidates in the race, Charmander, Squirtle, and Bulbasaur. For instance, two persons were given the statement “Charmander would be ideal; I’d love to see her rule the gym. But I could live with Bulbasaur, I guess. On the other hand, Squirtle’s election would be the death of the Pokémon Republic!” and one was given “Bulbasaur is the only truly principled Pokémon running this year, but I guess if I had to I’d vote for Squirtle to avoid that horrible Charmander.” There were seven distinct statements in all.

I then asked each person to take 10 points and divide them among the candidates in a manner they felt concordant with the statement they’d been given. We could view such a vote as an instance of range voting, but I meant it merely as a means of getting a larger electorate, effectively allowing each person to act as ten voters rather than one.

After collecting the ballots and tallying the results, I asked the class to vote again, again in a manner concordant with their statements, but not before giving them the following polling data:

  • Charmander: 40%
  • Squirtle: 35%
  • Bulbasaur: 10%
  • Undecided: 15%

After tallying these ballots, I requested a third round of voting, after the class viewed new polling data:

  • Charmander: 30%
  • Squirtle: 30%
  • Bulbasaur: 27%
  • Undecided: 13%

Though I wasn’t sure how it would go, I suspected that the exposure to initial set of polling data indicating their candidate had a snowball’s chance would cause the Bulbasaur boosters to vote more strategically, rather than sincerely as they might have in the absence of polling data. A second set of polling data, this set showing that Bulbasaur was within reach of the two leading candidates, should cause the Bulbasaur boosters to revert to voting sincerely.

This is exactly what happened, with the following results:

Round 1:

  • Charmander: 24 (21.8%)
  • Squirtle: 26 (23.6%)
  • Bulbasaur: 60 (54.5%)

Round 2:

  • Charmander: 35 (31.8%)
  • Squirtle: 42 (38.2%)
  • Bulbasaur: 33 (30.0%)

Round 3:

  • Charmander: 25 (22.7%)
  • Squirtle: 28 (25.5%)
  • Bulbasaur: 57 (51.8%)

Now, it’s dangerous to draw parallels between a low-stakes academic exercise involving Pokémons and a real-world election with real-world consequences, like the ongoing contentious election for POTUS, but it’s interesting to note that electoral support for a third-party candidate (Gary Johnson, a.k.a. Bulbasaur) with appeal to disgruntled voters in both major parties might depend so heavily on knowledge, or lack thereof, of polling data.

We talked a bit about this phenomenon, as well as the related impact of election returns data, an impact felt particularly strongly on the West Coast, where many folks don’t have a chance to get to the polls until after more easterly states’ races are already called on the basis of a representative sample of exit poll results. Given this effect, is the release of polling data an ethical practice, particularly when that release comes on or near Election Day?

This question gave rise to a host of ethical questions relating to poll results and polling processes and electoral behavior more generally: is one ethically obligated to vote, if one is legally permitted to do so? Is strategic voting an ethical practice? What about buying, selling, or trading one’s vote? It was a rich discussion.

I’m going to run the same exercise in my own class in just a few minutes. I’ll check in afterward with new data!


New and improved! Now with more equity!

New and improved! Now with more equity!

Last week I formally announced two new opportunities in the Honors Program, both of which have been in the works for a while. I’m excited about both: one will offer tangible support to our Honors students who need a little help in getting important projects off the ground, and the other should help to foster greater equity between “traditional” Honors students who enter the program on Day One of their college studies and those (like transfer students) who come to the program a bit later on.

The former is a program offering modest grants to Honors students for scholarly and creative activities: students may submit proposals for support for travel to conferences, materials for creative projects, attendance of events relevant to their research, etc. The Great Ideas Grants (GIGs) will offer a small amount of funding for such activities, to the tune of $150 per awardee. It’s not much, but it’s a start: until now I’ve had literally no funding for such opportunities, so even this small bit is an improvement.

The latter is a new “certificate” to be awarded to Honors students who show continued and continual engagement with the Honors Program but who for one reason or another are unable to complete the somewhat stringent requirements of Distinction as a University Scholar, the recognition conferred upon students who bank 21 hours or more of Honors credits, maintain a 3.5 GPA in Honors and a 3.25 GPA overall, and finish at least two of our interdisciplinary special topics courses and an Honors section of LA 478. The new acknowledgement of achievement, Recognition as an Honors Scholar, will still require the student to take an Honors section of 478 but will require only 12 hours of Honors coursework, which must include only a single special topics course. I hope that this small measure of acknowledgement will encourage late bloomers to stay active in the program, even when they’ve no hope of meeting the requirements for Distinction. It should help to induce greater participation on the part of transfer students, as well.

Time will tell, time will tell. Meanwhile, I’ve got to get cracking on further equity-increasing adjustments to our admissions procedure. I hope to have these in place by this coming spring, when we’ll court a brand new class of outstanding students.

Coming soon: a long-promised guest post from an amazing former student and a discussion of an electoral exercise I tried out on my colleague Amanda’s political rhetoric class last night!


One week down…

One week down…

…a bunch more to go. The semester’s off to a good start, I think. There’ve not yet been any fireworks in either order theory or voting theory, but as we tread closer to Duverger’s Law and Arrow’s Theorem, the latter will likely light up, and the students begin presenting solutions to problems in the former, so there’ll be some excitement there, too.

My order theory class hit a little bump when I realized that a couple of the students in the class have not taken our intro to proofs course; though I’d advertised MATH 280 as a prereq, I don’t think I listed 280 as a formal prerequisite, so a few folks signed up for more than they might be able to handle.

Meanwhile, today in voting theory we examined paradoxical electoral outcomes, outcomes in which the will of the people (as expressed by individual voter preferences) is clearly misaggregated into a “flawed” social preference as determined by the electoral process. (The featured image above shows the students’ successful attempt at “breaking” the “count the A-grades” electoral system mentioned by Donald Saari on page 20 of his book Chaotic Elections!.) Having spent the first two classes designing their own electoral systems and running mock elections according to those systems, their next task is to “break” one another’s systems by showing that paradoxical outcomes are possible no matter the choice of system.

I think the most exciting goings-on this past week came outside of class:

  • I’ve met (in several different settings) Sidney, the new director of our service-learning center. He seems authentic, engaged, down-to-earth, and appreciative of our campus culture surrounding service-learning and community engagement. I think I’ll enjoy working with him. He and Tish, the woman who’s been tapped to oversee several programs that deal with the university’s engagement with the community, invited me to join them at a two-day Campus Compact “action planning” institute coming up in a few weeks in Princeton, NJ. Should be fun!
  • I’ve been in correspondence with the heritage preservation officer for the Lewis and Clark County Historical Society regarding the phenomenon of urban renewal in Helena, Montana, my hometown. After revisiting a wesbite I discovered when looking at urban renewal in Helena the first time I taught Cultivating Global Citizenship, and after spending a few hours working on a poem about the old Chinese masonic temple that once stood in Helena (in the 1870s, Helena’s population was roughly 1/5 Chinese!), I contacted Queshia, asking for more information on an exhibit I’d seen referenced a few times in the literature I was able to find online. She responded very quickly and excitedly, sending me several large files full of digitized documents that relate to that exhibit. I’ve yet to look them over, but I hope to have some good time to do so this weekend!
  • Relatedly, I’ve begun talking with a few folks (including Candace and Doreen) about teaching a course on urban renewal here at UNCA…maybe team-teaching with someone who has more of an idea of what they’re talking about…? I know some folks in History and PoliSci who’d be all upons. Meanwhile, Candace’s current first-year writing class is based on the theme “deconstructing Asheville”: she’s asking her students to critically examine Asheville’s national reputation as a tourist mecca, a foodtopia, a thriving arts and crafts community, a jade-green jewel of an outdoors community where everyone drinks good beer and poops out sweet-smelling shit. While the haves are quaffing craft brews from the comfort of their kayaks, Asheville’s working-class community is struggling to get by in a sprawling food desert plagued by tremendous income inequality and inadequate affordable housing. Just today we’ve begun thinking about linking her first-year writing course with a first-year seminar on urban renewal…could we make that work…?
  • In administrative news…I presented the idea of moving toward a letter-grade-free curriculum in the Honors Program to the members of the Honors Program Advisory Committee. There was tentative support from some and tentative resistance from others…just as to be expected, I think. I’ve only just begun to think about this move, and I’m sure the coming weeks will see much more work on that project. The advisory committee unanimously signed off on a proposed alternative recognition for Honors students who cannot meet the somewhat stringent requirements for Distinction as a University Scholar, the greatest recognition we grant for participation in our program. Many transfer students simply cannot complete the 21 hours of Honors coursework required of them before graduating, and I want to do all that I can to encourage greater involvement of such students in the program. “Recognition as an Honors Scholar” will require the student to complete only 12 hours in the program, and I hope this honor will encourage more transfer students (and others!) to apply for and take part in the program.

I could go on and on (it’s been a busy week!)…about my school’s move to require all new lecturers to teach 16 hours per term (instead of the usual 12)…about last night’s very well-attended reception for first-year Honors students…about the fact that roughly 90% of that group of students is female (an even more uneven distribution than usual)…about the wonderful work my Student Honors Advisory Committee is doing in mentoring first-year students and putting together outstanding social and academic programming…but I’ll leave it there.

Much more to come!

Day One, v. 19.0

Day One, v. 19.0

Today is the first day of classes of my 19th year of teaching at the college level (kinda…I’m not counting TAing for a few classes as a masters student at the University of Denver). I’m still nervous (always am), but not as much as in the past. I feel…ready…? I guess…?

For the first time in…ever, I think…?…I’ve got a three-day-a-week schedule, both of my actual classes meeting on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I’m sure this means that Tuesdays and Thursdays will be completely fr offer big chunks of time for resea quickly fill up with meetings. But for now, it’s looking pretty manageable.

Today’s order theory class is going to start off with some basic exploration of the idea of order and some play with Hasse diagrams. Meanwhile, in voting theory the students are going to be asked to invent and implement “ideally just” voting systems in order to hold an election for their favorite among several ice cream flavors; it’s a noncontroversial way to start off what’s sure to be a contentious semester.

Let me close this post with an anecdote about my favorite first day of class ever, opening day for the first-semester calculus course I taught as a grad student at Vanderbilt in the fall of 1999: I was young enough then to pass for one of the undergrads in the class (still there but for a few (thousand) grays hairs and prominent crow’s feet), and I took advantage of this by showing up early enough for the eight-o’clock class to be sure of getting there first, taking a seat in the middle of the room and not at the front.

About five minutes after I got there, the first actual enrollee arrive, a young woman whose name I still remember. Belinda (let’s call her) was bubbly and outgoing and kind. She brightly introduced herself to me, and we chatted for a bit until the next students arrived. As each new person entered the room, Belinda introduced herself to them, and her welcome helped everyone else feel at ease and fall into a pleasant conversation. (It also helped me to learn everyone’s names; this was back before I had an electronic list, with pictures, ahead of time.)

The bell rang (yes, we really had a bell in Stevenson Center) and the class fell silent. Where was the teacher? Everyone looked around at one another, squirming slightly in their seats. “Um…what now?” the students began to ask. “Like, how long do we have to wait?”

After two or three minutes, by which time I worried people were going to start to get up and go, I stood, sighing, and slung my stuff on the table at the front of the room. “I guess I’ll go ahead and take it over.” There was laughter. Poor Belinda turned a bright, bright red. (Unsurprisingly, she would end up being one of the best students in the class.)

I think it was the following term that I pretended that I had arrived to teach an introductory Hebrew course (and not Calc II). I don’t remember any of my other pranks, but I’m pretty sure I pulled one at the start of every semester for a couple of years. It’s been a while.

Maybe I should try that again? Except I already know about three quarters of the students in both of my classes this term…

To all of you beginning a fresh new year today, best of luck! Learn a lot, don’t agonize over grades, and be well with one another. We’re all here for the same reason.