Against religious tolerance

I’m against religious tolerance when what you are tolerating is the systematic oppression of women. Thus, I find myself generally in pretty solid agreement with the Christopher Hitchens essay in which he defends the French government’s outlawing of the Burqa and other similarly oppressive women’s garments.  Unfortunately, he does let his anti-Islam bent get the best of him, as he essentially admits that this oppression of women is not central to Islam:

I defy anybody to find any authority in the Quran for the concealment of the face.

Exactly.  The practice is generally restricted to people who come from Muslim cultures, but it is a particular cultural practice, not a religious practice.  Thus, I think Hitchens is much too quick to paint all Islam with this brush (then again, painting a whole religious faith by the worst of its elements seems to be Hitchens’ M.O.).  I also think this opening is a bit of sophistry, but I still like it:

The French legislators who seek to repudiate the wearing of the veil or the burqa—whether the garment covers “only” the face or the entire female body—are often described as seeking to impose a “ban.” To the contrary, they are attempting to lift a ban: a ban on the right of women to choose their own dress, a ban on the right of women to disagree with male and clerical authority, and a ban on the right of all citizens to look one another in the face. The proposed law is in the best traditions of the French republic, which declares all citizens equal before the law and—no less important—equal in the face of one another.

I’m open to being persuaded otherwise, but for now I’m with Hitchens and the French government.


Same old blog, new blog host

So, as mentioned at my previous site, Wolfblogs is shutting down.  A little bit of research suggests that WordPress is definitely the way to go.  So here I am, and I’m pleased to have a much better URL for the site that incorporates the title.  I’ve got to figure out a way to get as much wolfblogs content here as I can, so until then, consider this a placeholder so I can solicit comments on the look.  You’ll know when I move over here for good (maybe later this week).

Grade Inflation

Let’s start with a modern story of social media… Came across this really cool site about grade inflation on a former student’s facebook page.  Posted to my facebook page.  Steve Saideman saw it on my facebook page and blogged about it.  Now I’m blogging about it.  Let’s just start with the image that nicely summarizes the situation:

Inflation at American Colleges and Universities

Here’s Saideman’s thought on the matter, as well as a good idea for
testing his theory.

It may be the case that the students are simply getting better, but given the writing we have all seen, this is probably unlikely.  It could
be that with greater pressures (nastier job markets, increased service loads, larger classes, more adjuncts) that professors prefer less hassle
and are less willing to enforce stricter standards.

Indeed, that last category is the only real trendy trend*–over the past couple of decades the number of tenured/tenure track folks teaching has gone from over fifty percent to under fifty percent, with more and more classes taught by temporary folks (graduate students, visitors, short-term folks).  These individuals have very little incentive to foster and maintain high standards as they have no stake in the particular institution.  And one can imagine a tipping point where the more permanent folks might consciously or unconscious relax their standards because the students have developed different expectations from their classes with the temps.

Perhaps one could test this by comparing the GPAs at schools with more and less temp faculty or over time as schools altered their
composition of profs over time (plenty of data, plenty of multivariate, time series type tools handy).

I think he’s onto something about the adjuncts, but I also think he’s missing part of the picture.  It’s an established fact that higher grades awarded are correlated with higher student evaluations of faculty (just for the record, my grades are about average for my department).  Not the most overwhelming correlation, but its there.  Short-term faculty, more than anybody, are under pressure to have high student evaluations, as that’s pretty much all they are evaluated upon.  If my teaching evaluations go down, I still have research (and to a lesser degree, service) to rely upon.  If an adjunct has low teaching evaluations, there’s a good chance they won’t be back.

I don’t think it would be fair to compare my NCSU grades with those at TTU, but I’ve been here a full 8 years now, so I may just take a few minutes and see if my grades have inflated at all over this period.  I honestly don’t think so.  I was actually looking at grade distributions the other day before I found this website and noticed a few things.  In upper-level classes, the distribution seems to vary quite a bit (reasonable given the smaller N), but I think it the big Intro to American Government class I teach, my grading has actually gotten a little bit harder.  That’s me, personally fighting the pernicious trend of grade inflation.

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