Why being a college professor is such a great job

Just finished grading for the semester.  Whoo-hoo!  I really love my job– except for the grading.  And meetings.  Oh man do I hate meetings!  (It’s really tough when you are consistently the smartest person in a room surrounded by idiots who just love to hear themselves talk– I jest.  Sort of).  Anyway, like I was saying, I really, really love my job.  I think this really cool talk on what motivates us (hint: it’s not money) helps explain why this job is so great.  It’s quite an entertaining 10 minute video, but since you probably won’t watch, here’s what it boils down to:

People are motivated largely based on three things: autonomy, mastery, and a sense of purpose.  My job has this in spades.  Autonomy?  Heck, most of this blog gets written in the office.  Other than time in class and those dreaded meetings, I have amazing amounts of autonomy over what I do and when I do it.  Mastery?  Perhaps not quite as much, but I’ve become a much better researcher over the years and a better teacher and that’s certainly very rewarding.  As for sense of purpose?  Tomorrow afternoon, I’ll get hugs and handshakes, meet parents, and take a few photos with new graduates who are about to head off into the world more prepared than when they first came to NCSU and in some of these cases, I actually contributed a decent amount to that.  That is definitely awesome.  Here’s a graduation photo from last year– I definitely helped make the diploma in the photo happen.

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Mitt Romney, Al Gore, and the media’s conventional wisdom

Excellent post by Jon Chait taking down Dana Milbank’s column about Mitt Romney’s “Al Gore problem.”  Romney and Gore’s problems, both stemmed from a campaign media that is the functional equivalent of the cool kids in 8th grade.  The media develops a “conventional wisdom” for pretty much every candidate, some of it based on decent reasons, others based on lazy journalism and dime-story psycho-analysis. The end result, though, is once this CW develops, it becomes a pervasive short-hand impossible for the victimized candidate to avoid.  Dana Milbank can be a good journalist when he tries, but he’s pretty much the exemplar of the cool kid who defines the conventional wisdom.  Classic (quasi-fictional) example from 2000: if GWB told you something would cost $1 billion despite the CBO estimate of $500 million, the press would infer he was too dumb to know the difference.  If Gore did the same thing, it would be because he was a lying exaggerator. Anyway, here’s Chait on Milbank and Romney:

Dana Milbank compares Mitt Romney to Al Gore:

Romney has what might be called an Al Gore problem: Even if he’s being genuine, he seems ersatz. He assumed a professorial air by delivering a 25-page PowerPoint presentation in an amphitheater lecture hall – but the university issued a statement saying it had nothing to do with the event, for which the sponsoring college Republicans failed to fill all seats. His very appearance – a suit worn without a necktie – shouted equivocation. His hair was so slick that only a few strands defied the product.

This is a perfect demonstration of an Al Gore problem, but I’d define the problem differently. An Al Gore problem is what happens when the media forms an impression of your character and decides to cram every irrelevant detail of your appearance and behavior into that frame, regardless of whether or not it means anything. Thus Romney’s hair and lack of tie are now evidence of a character flaw, as is his decision to give a detailed policy lecture in a university town without being officially sponsored by a University. An Al Gore problem results in the media ganging up on a candidate like cool kids mocking a geek, with literally everything he’s doing serving as more evidence for the predetermined narrative.

I’m glad that reporters are paying attention to the Al Gore problem. But I wish reporters would understand what the problem is — namely, a media pathology.  [emphasis mine]

I’m no big fan of Mitt Romney– he does seem to take his pandering to an absurd degree, even for a contemporary Republican politician, but his biggest problem know (other than the health care albatross– a future post), is that the media has decided he’s an inauthentic loser, and thus everything he does will be reported through that lens.  (Drum also does a nice riff of of Chait’s post).

Policing tweets

I’m not a big fan of making negative comments about gays in public fora, but I’m even less of a fan of suggesting that a 19-year old kid needs some kind of re-education camp because he did so.  To wit, NC State’s CJ Leslie:

RALEIGH, N.C. —

N.C. State basketball player CJ Leslie is apologizing for his Twitter comment about anNBA player’s sexuality, but one university group is calling for action.

On Tuesday afternoon, Leslie took to his Twitteraccount to speak his mind about former NBA playerJohn Amaechi.

“i’m no anti gay But I would rather not have a gay n the locker room. john Amaechi is to big to be gay…#imjussayin,” tweeted Leslie…

The director of the university’s Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Center wants action, saying the situation needs to be addressed immediately and the University needs to take a strong stance.

“A comment like this should be addressed swiftly,” Justine Hollingshead said. It should be clear Leslie “understands from an educational standpoint that what he said was not appropriate and it’s not something the University tolerates.”

Annabelle Myers, assistant athletics director for media relations, says from a legal standpoint, Leslie’s tweet was posted on a personal account, but said athletes need to know that what they say represents the University. Myers adds that what was posted by Leslie certainly does not reflect the view of the University.

Leslie may “represent” the university, but I really don’t like the idea of policing people for the thoughts they express on their twitter account (heck, or their blogs, for that matter).  As anti-gay statements go, Leslie’s is amazingly benign, and surely very widespread among college athletes.

What will Obama do now?

Earlier this week I linked to a really nice piece by Chait on how Obama really needs to force Republicans to put specifics on the table about what they insist on cutting in order to pass the debt ceiling increase.  Once those specific cuts are out there, there’s no way there’s not huge blowback against the Republicans.  Naturally, they are therefore hesitant to actually get specific.  This Post article on McConnell’s latest suggestions really makes the point:

The top Senate Republican sought Thursday to clarify his party’s stance on Medicare heading into high-stakes talks with the White House, telling President Obama he wants “significant” changes to the program in exchange for lifting the legal limit on government borrowing.

After the entire Senate Republican caucus met with Obama at the White House, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said he would not insist on a controversial House GOP plan that would partly privatize the popular health program for the elderly. But with Medicare and Medicaid projected to be the major drivers of future borrowing, he said tighter eligibility requirements and reduced benefits must be part of any deal.

“The things I’m talking about have already been studied to death. We don’t need any more hearings,” McConnell said at a Capitol Hill news conference. “We know what the options are. The only question remaining is what will we pick up and agree to on a bipartisan basis.”

Notice how he wants “significant” changes, but still refuses to truly get specific.   And, of course, he wants it to be “bipartisan.”  As Chait points out, the Republicans are absolutely desperate for the political cover only Obama can give to them by proposing the specifics himself.  Now, the question is, does Obama actually give them this cover or force them to truly lay their cards on the table.

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