My week on Twitter with ‘off-Twitter’ consequences

This week, via Twitter, I had several interesting experiences. Here I’ll just summarize and describe them, but I’d like to think more about how these stories relate to identity, power, and community. Monday, April  14, was Dolphy Day at Le Moyne. If you’re curious about what Dolphy Day is, I guess you could look here. I don’t know if there really is a good account of what the day ‘is,’ but over the last few years perusing the hashtag #dolphyday would give you some impression. This year I saturated Twitter with tweets critical of the day (I’m surprised I still have followers). I meant to criticize, on intellectual grounds, what I feel is irresponsible student behavior, bad institutional policy, and the basic disrespect of students, staff, faculty, and campus neighbors the day ritualizes. One of my least interesting but most sincere tweets was used in this article from syracuse.com. A number of students responded to me in defense of Dolphy Day, some rather aggressively, others very respectfully. As a result of my tweets, I got an email from a recent Le Moyne graduate very eloquently defending what she considers the good parts of the day. I had students approach me offline to tell me they liked what I was saying, but none telling me they disagreed. A few students asked me how they could communicate what they dislike about the day to administrators. One administrator on campus told me I wasn’t acting as a good colleague. I was also asked to do an interview for the campus newspaper about my opposition to Dolphy Day. I’ve asked the reporter if she’ll let me post the interview here on my blog, and I’ll do so once her story is published. I think it’s a good thing that what I and my colleagues did on Twitter, as well as on a very long ‘reply all’ email chain, might help start a real conversation about what Dolphy Day is at Le Moyne, and how it might be done differently and better.

Then, on Thursday, I had 2 unrelated Twitter experiences that I think are less about being a ‘public scholar’ and more about being a member of a supportive community. In the morning, I had a relatively long Direct Message exchange with a colleague and friend I met via Twitter about some non academic issues I’m finding it hard to talk about with others. It was really nice to have that chance, and it simply wouldn’t have happened without connections I’ve made via web based social networking. Thursday night I went to a Syracuse Chiefs double header, and midway through game 2 I tweeted a picture of view along with my seat location.

The view from my seat at NBT Bank Stadium.

The view from my seat at NBT Bank Stadium.

A Chiefs fan that I follow, and who also follows me, happened to see the tweet and it turned out he was sitting one section over. As we figured that out, he walked over and introduced himself. It turns out he’s a teacher with a great interest and knowledge about baseball. He even wrote his college senior year thesis about the economic impact of minor league baseball teams on their home cities. It sounds like a very interesting project, and I’ve asked to read it.

Each of these experiences are examples of how Twitter, and social networking more generally, have the potential to create community, to foster larger conversations about change, and to be integrated into our offline lives.

Baseball and sociology: A little chatter

I’ve been a baseball fan longer than I’ve been a sociologist. I’ve got memories of playing as a kid (I threw a 3 inning no-hitter and then got taken out of the game!; I made a great catch once in t-ball; once I hit a bases clearing triple, etc.). My Glory Days came before I was 15, and they were only so glorious. My other childhood memories about baseball are about being a fan and learning about the game. I recall my dad teaching me to watch the catcher’s mitt to get a sense for how the pitcher was doing. I remember trips to Milwaukee County stadium to watch the Brewers in the American League. Occasionally we’d use box seat tickets my dad got from someone he knew through his work. Once in those seats I got a ball that an ump tossed into the stands between innings. Those are good memories, thus far unadulterated by analytical thought.

This Midwest League ball sits on my desk year round.

This Midwest League ball sits on my desk year round.

Over the years colleagues who know about my enjoyment of baseball have suggested I turn my sociological eye to the game. There is certainly a lot one could wax sociological about, but I’ve resisted because I thought why turn something I enjoy so much into work? However, recently I have blogged a bit about sports and tweeted some sociological takes on changes in the MLB. In particular I’ve been sending some Weber inspired tweets about instant replay as rationalization. I’m not someone who values the ‘human element’ for sentimental reasons, but rather it’s that I just don’t understand how replay will significantly improve the game. I think the cost of chasing certainty will be some of the spontaneous emotionality of the game which is sometimes the result of feeling like you’re on the wrong side of a bad call.

Seeing some of these tweets, fellow sociologist and friend Todd Schoepflin asked if I’d answer some questions for an interview he’s put up on his blog. I was happy to, and it was fun. Here’s a link to Todd’s post.

 

Protesting Catholic Parish Mergers: A sociological investigation

For 4 years or so I’ve been working with colleagues and students on a study of parish changes and lay Catholic protest. The study considers attitudes about parish life and Catholic authority in a context of significant reconfiguration in the diocese. Recently, a paper written with my colleague Meg Ksander as part of the project was accepted for publication at Review of Religious ResearchIt is available now here, behind a pay-wall.

I’d like this paper to be read by lay Catholics involved in changes in their own parishes and dioceses, and by leaders who make decisions about the future of the church. So, I’m going to share a version of the paper here on my blog, hoping it might find some interested readers who wouldn’t find it in the journal. The abstract is below, and here is the paper.

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This mixed method study describes contention over parish reconfiguration in a northeast Catholic diocese, and a case study of one merged parish. Guided by social movement theories about collective action frames and political opportunities in mobilizatio0n, we outline the diocesan frame of reconfiguration and the counter frame developed by activists who organized to oppose the process. While the diocesan frame focused on a shortage of priests that officials believed demanded reconfiguration of financially burdened parishes, the lay counter frame shifted the debate to questions about the role of the laity in the contemporary Catholic Church and what they perceived as failed leadership from their bishop. Our case study of Resurrection Parish shows how the merged process and the activists’ opposition to their diocesan leaders resulted in a parish that works to ensure the involvement of the laity, and continues to publicly dissent from Catholic leaders.

Saving baseball’s Opening Day. Or, MLB should hire a sociologist! (me)

Major League Baseball’s 2014 Opening Day is Monday, March 31st. Well, actually, it’s Sunday, March 30th. Oh, wait, it’s actually Saturday, March 22nd.

Do you see the problem here? MLB likes to hold on to the notion that it is America’s Pastime, but the actual time of its Opening Day is difficult to follow which makes it, I’d guess, less likely that even fans will watch. And (pardon my nationalism) it’s not even in America this year. Most teams start on the 31st, but there’s an “Opening Night” game on the 30th, and the first regular season game is on March 22nd, in Australia. Where better to “kick off” ‘America’s Pastime’ than Australia, right? All this means that this ‘big game’ starts at 4am on a Saturday morning here on the east coast. I love baseball’s Opening Day, but I’m not waking up at 4am. Game 2 of that series is at 10pm Saturday, so I might be able stay awake for a few innings of that one.

Joy and I love baseball’s Opening Day so much, in fact, that for 10 years or so we’ve made the day a celebration. I arrange my schedule so that I’m free that afternoon, and Joy takes the day off of work. We subscribe to the Extra Innings package so we can see that first pitch, wherever it is (ought to be Cincinnati every year), and then we watch the Brewers’ game in full. We eat hot dogs, popcorn, and nachos, and we make homemade soft pretzels. I buy, and even drink, MGD in homage to my Milwaukee nine. It is a ritual that marks the arrival of spring and honors one of our shared passions as much as it is about watching the games.

All of this is why I was interested to learn yesterday about this petition to make Baseball’s Opening Day a national holiday. It is, of course, nothing but an advertising campaign for Budweiser, and its pitch-man is the face of the baseball franchise I most despise, former Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith. While I like the idea of America taking the day off to watch baseball, I don’t like the idea of another corporate sponsored holiday. And, very, very few people would realistically get a day off anyway. This is empty symbolism and advertising, and nothing more.

And there isn’t anybody paying attention who doesn’t know it. I’m not breaking anybody’s heart with this post. In fact, it’s just one more example of how MLB is terrible at ‘making a splash.’ The beauty of baseball is its regularity; its rhythms and routine. It is present in fans’ lives the way weather is to a weather buff. We’ve seen almost all of this before, we’ll see most of it again, and now and then you see something incredible you’ve never seen before and will never see again! It is a comfortable blend of the past and the future, with intense flashes of the present. MLB seems not to understand that instead of doing something contrived and painfully artificial that doesn’t fit into the confines of the sport’s foundational myths of timelessness and tradition, they ought to do something that settles it easily into its fans, and many non-fans, routines.

I’ve said before, often in a bar making exaggerated claims about how baseball is killing itself, that there is an easy way to make MLB Opening Day a bigger hit. To get this done the league doesn’t need the Cardinals’ class, it doesn’t need the White House’s executive power, and it doesn’t even need flipping Ozzie Smith. Just start the regular season with every team playing games on Sunday. In the afternoon. Is there anything better than Sunday afternoon day baseball? No, there isn’t. This would be 15 games* on Opening Day, and everybody’s team would be playing. Right now there are at least 4 national TV networks that cover games, including all of ESPN’s channels and the league’s own MLB TV. Starting at noon on the east coast and staggering start times until 4 or so on the west coast, you could have a 6 to 8 hour national blitz of baseball on a spring Sunday afternoon. MLB already does this most Sundays in the season, the only difference being that right now they only nationally televise 1 or 2 games of the 15 there are to choose from (the Red Sox and/or Yankees seemingly always being involved in the chosen games).

This solution is doable, and what’s best is that it fits within a narrative baseball cherishes. Forgive me the sugary language, but give us day games in the sun, with our families and friends, remembering the past and hoping for the future. And, fine, make some money by leveraging that beautiful myth on the one day you can probably get even non-fans to care by teaming up with America’s most widely loved pastimes – television and blockbuster beer ads.

You can have this idea for free, MLB, but how about hiring an ‘in-house’ sociologist?

*Only one of these 15 games would be the abomination that is inter-league play.

You’re not a professor unless you spend some time professing

It’s never a good thing when folks start suggesting solutions to the problem that is you. In this case, I’m talking about the ‘problem of tenure’ that we hear so much about. The most recent ‘solution’ to get some attention appeared in the New York Times last week, under the headline “A Solution for Bad Teaching.” While the solution in this case wasn’t to abolish tenure, it was to create three ‘tracks’ a new ‘professor’ might follow to reach the hallowed ground of tenure: a research track, a teaching track, and a hybrid track. Essentially, the author argued that universities should ‘also’ reward professors for teaching. Researchers get a track, of course, but we need to make room for the teachers. I found it telling that, throughout the essay, the author seems to use  ‘teacher’ as synonymous with ‘adjunct.’ Dear parents thinking about sending your kids to college, that should tell you something about R1s. It’s an implicit admission that the ‘professors’ those schools value the most (i.e. by making a long term commitment to them and paying them the most) won’t be spending much valued time with your kids. Kind of makes you wonder what you are paying for, maybe?

Of course, the author was writing about research universities, but my first reaction was to think that he was completely unaware that other sorts of institutions of higher education exist. The Little Professor expressed this reaction very nicely, right here, suggesting that maybe the solution to bad teaching is teaching teachers how to teach. Madness, right? Quality teaching maybe isn’t some implicit magic that the rare prof can harness while others excuse themselves to the lab. Maybe it’s a skill that can be learned?

At ‘non-research’ schools (which is most of the schools, by the way) faculty are rewarded for quality teaching. Faculty here are also expected to be active in their professional fields. We write papers, review manuscripts, attend annual meetings, and serve on the committees of our professional associations. We teach 6 or 7, or 8, or 9 classes a year, and we perform college and community service. I’d argue that positions at non-research universities have already become that ‘hybrid’ position, and have been that way for quite some time. From a parent’s perspective, the easiest solution for ‘bad teaching,’ I’d suggest, is to send your kids to places where teaching is already valued and the teachers remain well versed in their chosen fields without the need of the ‘research’ prof sitting in the classroom with a checklist.

Central to these debates, but nowhere to be found in the NY Times piece, I’d argue, is the definition of professor. I’d start from the proposition that it means you’ve got something to profess to those not already converted to your worldview. Writing research papers or academic books that are read by 3 anonymous reviewers who are experts in your field, and periodically cited in research papers by those trying to climb the ranks of the profession doesn’t qualify in my mind. If you spend your time focused on your research to the practical exclusion of teaching, you’re not a professor. If you aren’t spending significant time passing your discipline on to those who aren’t already, or won’t soon be, professionals in the field, maybe you’re not a professor. If you spend most of your time attempting to sway the skeptic that your perspective is worthwhile, sort of like faculty teaching in ‘core’ or general ed curricula at liberal arts and community colleges do much of the time, you’re definitely a professor.

Well, at least in my book, which I hope to soon get published at an academic press. Gotta get full.

I don’t “get” why it matters: Creationism vs. Evolution

Yesterday I tweeted a joke about the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham about Creationism and Evolution. As the debate approached its third hour I tweeted:

I was making less than clear reference to the more than 150 years that have passed since Darwin published On The Origin of Species, and the nearly 90 years since The State of Tennessee v. Scopes.

As a sociologist of religion (forgive me!), I know that the debate still rages, and I have a general idea of the demographics and religious factors that tend to correlate with the various positions. As a student of society, I understand why knowing about this debate and who is on which side is relevant. Just earlier this week I discussed Darren Sherkat’s recent article about religion and scientific literacy in the United States. He makes a convincing argument that because the public is involved in making decisions about science policy and application, scientific literacy is a valuable social good. That all makes sense to me. I get it.

Moment to moment, however, I have never been convicted by the spirit that the origin of our species matters very much. Were we created as is? Did we evolve? I think we evolved. The evidence is there to support the theory. I know, in the sense that I’m aware of it being true, the science of evolution helps us develop technologies and knowledge that help us live in a better world. That said, on a day to day basis, I think my own certainty about the origin of the species is completely irrelevant. I don’t need an answer one way or the other to make sense of the world I live in or to give meaning to the things I do. I just don’t “get” it.

Why I do What I do

Two summers ago I attended a writing workshop hosted by my colleague Dr. Maura Brady, a member of Le Moyne College’s English department. We were fortunate that Dr. Ned Stuckey-French, from Florida State, joined to lead our daily sessions. The workshop was about creative non-fiction and finding one’s voice. It was a  valuable experience that has given me new ways to think about writing, and the work I do more generally as a professor. It’s helped me most as I think about what I’m doing with this blog, but I know it’s also helped me work with student writing, and in writing professional papers.

Out of that workshop, and a similar one the following summer, grew a project where a number of Le Moyne faculty have written essays about “Why I do What I do.” I have finished a fairly complete draft of my own essay, and I’m going to share it here.

What follows is a narrative about how I came to be a sociologist and my approach to doing this work. I hope it’s a good example of the genre of creative non-fiction, and maybe even a good example of public sociology.

*** Continue reading

Breaching Boston: On accidental ethnomethodology

I was in Boston, MA a week or so ago for the meetings of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. It was a good meeting, but it was in a part of Boston where I’d not previously spent any time. The Westin Waterfront is near the Boston Convention and Exposition Center, in the Seaport District. While there are some good dining options on the water, I wasn’t aware of that on the first day of the meetings. So, at lunch I decided to walk out and see what I could find. I started walking west on Summer street, not toward the water, but toward South Station because I figured there would be food in that area. As I crossed the “Fort Point” Channel, I came to a large building with floor to ceiling windows on the first floor. Inside, there were a lot of people standing in line at a number of different counters. It was a food court, and I wanted food. So, in I went. 

As I entered, I could see from the business attire that most were wearing that this was a largely professional crowd. Fortunately, I’d just given a paper, and looked pretty professional (for me). I was in khakis and button down shirt, which is about as put-together as I ever look. I started slowly walking through this food court to see what my options were. The lines were long, it was just a few minutes after noon, and the rush of people made it a bit difficult to see what was available. As I made my way through, I noticed that there were reception desks between this open food court area and the elevators to the rest of the building. I didn’t think much beyond “this must be an office building” and I kept walking to check out the options further down this lobby area.

Then, however, I hear someone yelling “excuse me, sir. Sir. Sir!” I looked over to see that a guy behind one of the desks was talking to me.  Continue reading

How to virtually end the NFL injury epidemic

Yesterday I sent this tweet: “Look at the NFL injury report and then justify being a fan of the league’s product. That league should end.” Here is a summary of this week’s injuries, if you’re interested (beware the autoplay). I don’t think the NFL will ever go away, but below I offer a solution that will virtually remove all serious injuries from a game I actually like.

My tweet didn’t elicit much response, but not very many (of my) tweets do. However, an old friend of mine (maybe trolling), suggested that my tweet implied that we should also ban cars because more people are hurt in auto accidents than tear their ACLs in football games. This is not a good argument. My problem with the NFL is partly the profit that is generated by selling the athletes’ skills to consumers of the league’s product, and what seems like lip service from the league to the risk the players are taking. Nobody is selling my driving ability. The analogy might work better for auto racing, and it would be interesting to see a comparison of injuries between the NFL and NASCAR, and some analysis of how serious the leagues are in protecting their employees on the field and track. Continue reading

NCAA football coach salaries in context

A year or so ago, I posted about how hard it is for me to enjoy football these days. Part of my argument was Urban Meyer’s $4 million a year salary from The Ohio State University. It’s obscene for an institution of higher ed to make its football coach the highest paid state employee. Urban Meyer isn’t the only case of a very highly paid football coach, of course. The Deadspin infographic linked to above, constant news about rising college costs and student debt, as well as news about stagnant middle and working class wages made me wonder how college football coach salaries compare to typical salaries and costs of middle and working class life.

So, here’s what I did. I found the salaries of the top 10 highest paid college football coaches, and used collegeboard.org to get tuition and financial aid data for the top 10 schools (I had to use collegedata.com for the University of Louisville). Then I used Current Population Survey data from the Census Bureau’s American Fact Finder to find median household income estimates for the cities the universities are located in, and I found the Economic Policy Institute’s Basic Family Budget estimate for each location (I had to use Oklahoma City for the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State).

With these data I estimated 4 ratios. I calculated the ratio of ‘coach’s salary to tuition’ (in state for the 9 public schools on the list), the ratio of ‘coach’s salary to average financial aid award,’ ‘coach’s salary to median household income,’ and ‘coach’s salary to basic family budget.

As you can see, these coaches are well paid by any of these measures. It turns out that Urban Meyer (who really turned me off of football when he got his contract) isn’t the worst offender. I mean, you’d think Mack Brown might win something given his wonderful rewards. That’s the way it works, right? These 10 highest paid coaches make anywhere from 69 times (TCU’s Gary Patterson) to 164 times (Alabama’s Nick Saban) median household income in their communities, and from 95 to 597 times their institution’s tuition and fees (Patterson and Saban again). Obviously I could look into this for more than the top 10, but the top 25 highest paid coaches all make at least $2.5 million a year so I wouldn’t expect it to be much different. Some of these top 25, for example, are in small, relatively downtrodden Midwest towns with relatively low costs of living and low pay. Their ratios might be more extreme.

Here is the table of raw data:

Coach School Location Salary Tuition & Fees Avg Fin Aid Median HH Income EPI BFB
Nick Saban University of Alabama* Tuscaloosa, AL $5,650,000.00 $9,450.00 $11,479.00 $34,359.00 $61,004.00
Mack Brown University of Texas* Austin, TX $5,400,000.00 $9,790.00 $13,669.00 $52,453.00 $66,970.00
Bob Stoops University of Oklahoma* Norman,OK $4,600,000.00 $8,915.00 $11,837.00 $46,595.00 $58,852.00
Urban Meyer Ohio State* Columbus, OH $4,300,000.00 $10,037.00 $12,201.00 $43,348.00 $62,104.00
Les Miles LSU* Baton Rouge, LA $4,300,000.00 $7,880.00 $12,600.00 $37,381.00 $57,160.00
Kirk Ferentz University of Iowa* Iowa City, IA $3,900,000.00 $8,061.00 $12,603.00 $41,956.00 $66,677.00
Charlie Strong University of Louisville* Louisville, KY $3,700,000.00 $9,750.00 $11,720.00 $43,680.00 $61,630.00
Steve Spurrier University of South Carolina* Columbia, SC $3,600,000.00 $10,816.00 $12,340.00 $38,995.00 $59,431.00
Gary Patterson TCU Fort Worth, TX $3,500,000.00 $36,590.00 $21,669.00 $50,456.00 $64,587.00
Mike Gundy Oklahoma State* Stillwater, OK $3,300,000.00 $7,442.00 $12,558.00 $30,133.00 $58,852.00

Here is the table of ratios I calculated:

Coach School Location Salary/Tuition Salary/Fin Aid Salary/Med Inc Salary/BFB
Nick Saban University of Alabama* Tuscaloosa, AL 597.88 492.20 164.44 92.62
Mack Brown University of Texas* Austin, TX 551.58 395.05 102.95 80.63
Bob Stoops University of Oklahoma* Norman,OK 515.98 388.61 98.72 78.16
Urban Meyer Ohio State* Columbus, OH 428.41 352.43 99.20 69.24
Les Miles LSU* Baton Rouge, LA 545.69 341.27 115.03 75.23
Kirk Ferentz University of Iowa* Iowa City, IA 483.81 309.45 92.95 58.49
Charlie Strong University of Louisville* Louisville, KY 379.49 315.70 84.71 60.04
Steve Spurrier University of South Carolina* Columbia, SC 332.84 291.73 92.32 60.57
Gary Patterson TCU Fort Worth, TX 95.65 161.52 69.37 54.19
Mike Gundy Oklahoma State* Stillwater, OK 443.43 262.78 109.51 56.07

Any civil comments, concerns, or criticisms?