Sunday, December 29, 2013

Books to be Read by Every Student of Public Service: Ansell, Bertelli and Lynn, Caro, Hacking, Tang

C. Ansell, Pragmatist Democracy: Evolutionary Learning as Public Philosophy
A. Bertelli and L. Lynn, Madison’s Managers
R. Caro, The Passage of Power, The Years of Lyndon Johnson, vol IV
I. Hacking, Representing and Intervening
S. Tang's new book on institutional design, in Chinese with English translation 

Conflict and power-asymmetries were once the commonplaces of discussions of public service and its relationship to the governed. The concern was that a more "cooperative" relationship with those who were powerful (as public servants were then seen), however defined, would lead to co-optation, the powerful distorting the positions and effects of the less powerful to suit the powerful's own goals so that confrontation and conflict would be lessened. In effect, one of the main powers of the weak would be weakened. That public servants were agents of powerful principals was recognized.

We now hear more of collaboration and empowerment and incentives. More generally, what were once arenas of conflict are now matters of design and rule-following. Tang's ten rules for the design of institutions and rules, much as discussions of incentives and markets, say that management is the term of art, and good management is a matter of setting up rules that allow and encourage people to do what is most desired by government or management. Ansell's pragmatism and evolution, is a matter of finding out what works, and in that process collaboration is crucial.  (Nature red in tooth and claw, the violent character of survival of the fittest, another message of evolution, is not here.) And, Bertelli and Lynn's managers are regulated by the Constitution and the intents and laws of the Legislature, rather than by more more selfish or rent-seeking concerns. 

In much the same vein, we are less likely to talk of T. Kuhn's rendition of scientific change as a matter of a a clash and succession of paradigms. Rather, science is about representing the world (those paradigms) and testing out your ideas by marginally probing the world and seeing how it responds, more the matter of striking a tuning fork, and listening for its tones.

It is a nice corrective to read Caro on Lyndon Johnson. In the fourth volume, we see Lyndon humiliated by the Kennedy clan. Then Lyndon assume the presidency, and he is transformed for about seven weeks into a supremely subtle user of his skills and power. Wow!

It would be good if power and conflict and co-optation were again part of the basic training of public servants.  It would also be good if in their training, their professors understood science as a matter of representing and intervening rather than talking of paradigms.  And it would be good if everyone watched power in action, ala LBJ, if only to appreciate how masterfully it can be employed.

These are the best books I know of about the public service. Any concerns I might have about them is vastly outweighed by their excellence.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Jesus Comes Up for Tenure

Jesus comes up for tenure, after his probationary period of doing "miracles," saying wise things, etc. An effective tenure committee report would go as follows:

0. A summary statement, indicating the strengths and weaknesses of the case. And a preview of the committee's judgment.

0.1 A brief statement of Jesus's background, where and how he was born, his professional life as a carpenter, and his emergence as a public figure. A discussion of the Personal Statement, indicating its straightforwardness, its focus on actual achievements, and its lack of hyperbolic claims. Moreover, there is a commitment to continuing performances in the strongest venues (he has several agents and they have booked him for the next few years). And, teaching is integrated into his performing. 

1. Jesus's achievements, much as they are described in the Apostolic Gospels. Miracles, cures, sayings, etc.

2. A careful review of the Hebrew Bible indicating how Jesus fulfils its requirements. How Jesus is surely a prophet, and it would seem that he is the prophet we have been waiting for for centuries.

3. A review of the letters:
--those from the Apostles and the cured,
--those from the Romans who are concerned that he is a troublemaker and rabblerouser,
--and those from some of the Pharisaic rabbis who have their doubts.

4. There would be a discussion of previous potential stars and how they did not work out. There would be a discussion of the rabbis' doubts. The denial case would be made a strong as reasonable, including how Zealotry is the current fashion and it's not so clear it tells us anything.

5. Then there would be a sensible statement about why the doubts and negatives are not probative.

6. And this point, the committee shows its hand.

A. Jesus should be tenured. So far, he has more than fulfilled the our expectations: important performances in the best venues, great teaching (in fact, extraordinary, much better than we would expect from a performing artist), and as a plus fine service in the community. He does it all. Jesus is a potential super-star.
     As for the evidence, the positives are not readily explained away or dismissed. The letters from the Romans and the rabbis would seem to be defending their own interests, little concerned with Jesus' actual achievements. There are some disturbing negatives, such as no published writing in the form of theology. But there are the widely praised performances, and the Apostles are writing up his teachings. Jesus' teaching is outstanding and becoming nationally recognized, with Saul of Tarsus widely promoting Jesus' work. And the reviews of his performances are extensive and detailed and positive.
      There is much promise here, the trajectory is upward, and Jesus is likely to attract other strong figures to our institution.The case is not marginal, and the society will be better off were Jesus tenured. There are now three offers outstanding, from Babylon, Athens, and Alexandria, peers or better to Jerusalem, and if we do not act decisively, we shall lose him to our competitors.

B. Regrettably Jesus is not tenurable. While Jesus is surely prophet-like, we have seen many other such candidates. There is little originality here. There is no particular evidence for the claimed miracles, and the claimed similarities with the Bible are found in many young men. Moreover, the Apostles' letters are not at all balanced, and are not arms-length. (For example, the virgin birth is scientifically impossible. We have no reason to credit Mary's claims as related by the Apostles.)
     We do not find the Romans' concerns to the point, since it would appear that Jesus is not trying to make trouble, and is merely doing what he feels is appropriate. As for the doubts of the rabbis, they are warranted, but again they are again not balanced, and reflect their desire to retain their status. 
     Our judgment is based on the evidence and the lack of decisive information. Other institutions may well be willing to risk incorporating Jesus for the next forty years. But there are other peers who are plausible prophet-professors (a term like "student athletes"). We do not have the information we need to view Jesus as the paramount performer we would want to join our institution.

Jesus is worthy, but not worthy of Jerusalem.

Note that at this point, the Hebrew-in-charge, the dean, need not make any excuses for the report.

So now we have the first dean's response to the report, here the positive report.

The supposed outside offers are not credible.  An academy in Babylonia
is still a dream.  His knowledge of Greek is too unsophisticated for Alexandria,
let alone Athens, and he knows none of the philosophers.

His scholarship is minimal, though creative, but he has published
nothing.  He is an inspiring teacher, and students from his school (if not
his direct students) have published based on his work.  To decide on tenure
we must be clear whether we are to become a teaching college or will
remain a research university. After all, our namesake wrote five books to get

But then the provost is visited by various folks who point out Jesus is one of those faculty who lead a school of thought, who by their oral traditions have enormous influence [as will the rabbis' centuries later], and a great university can afford to have some extraordinary faculty.

It's the Work, Stupid!

In the last two posts, I repeatedly mention "the work." If you don't thrive on the work itself, all the rest won't help. You want to write books, do the research, write articles and get them published, write grant-proposals--all of it--and then the work is motivating and satisfying. You have problems, questions, an itch so to speak, and the work scratches that itch effectively. You may want fame, fortune, respect, promotion, and all the rest, but if the work does not motivate you, you are likely in trouble.

For the work is the one thing you control. You might not get the grant this time around, but there is work to do. You may have trouble getting the book or article published, but you have work to do.

My impression is that perhaps as much as 1/3 of the faculty of a research university finds their work so compelling. Even at the strongest institutions, it is surely no more than 3/4. Everyone else sets deadlines to be prepared for meetings, becomes an administrator, whatever. But for the people for whom "the work" and that itch are primary it's a different world.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Praise and The Work Itself

You have to set up your life to receive recognition and praise. Enter contests, have your friends nominate you for awards and memberships (if you succeed, they receive the plus of being effective in this realm), change jobs if your current institution does not treat you appropriately. Give talks and presentations, arrange sessions at national meetings, and help others succeed so that they owe you rather than you owe them.

Once in a while you may receive a kudo out of the blue. You are at a dinner party with 300 guests and find yourself seated at a central table. An authoritative figure in your institution or field, leans forward and stops the conversations, and then tells the table how your advice is most valued. You knew they appreciated your work, but out of the blue, in a public occasion, you are praised effusively and honestly. Or, in an email a scholarly authority writes you to tell you how much they appreciate your latest book, and they say that it is "truly a masterpiece." 

Such vatic pronouncements do not happen often. Reviews may well praise you, but personal kudos from authoritative figures are rare. (Don't count introductions to a talk you are giving.)

What should keep you going is the work itself. Kudos are wonderful, and they are encouraging. But what if they do not come when you need them? If you are fortunate, the work itself will sustain you.

Significant Work

Almost all scholars publish work that is less significant, and many publish some significant work. I suspect (but do not know) that even the most accomplished have a ratio of something like 3:1, less-significant to significant.

In part, we cannot know ahead of time just which of our contributions will be influential, which will be path-breaking. For, by definition, the significance of work depends on how it is received by its audience of other scholars, whether in the next few years, or in decades. If there is a prepared audience, whether it be the discovery of a particle or a cure, you may well receive kudos. But if an audience has to be prepared, and earlier work has not yet awakened them, you will have to do lots of proselytizing. If you challenge an orthodoxy, you will have a prepared but skeptical audience. If you confirm what everyone believes (but in fact the evidence is not so substantial until your work appears), you have a prepared but bored audience and will get less credit than you deserve. 

Monographic studies in the humanities or in mathematics or in some of the natural sciences will take longer to be assessed than the reception of journal articles. But, in some fields it is only monographic studies that provide the level of detail and support to make the argument serious enough to demand attention. And of course, you must give talks, appear at meetings, etc, to convince people you are serious. Not always, if what you have done is on its face a great contribution--but this is rare. A major contribution to mathematics, such as those of Wiles or Perelman, will be immediately assessed for its correctness, but this may take months of work by the strongest people in the field. Still, its influence will often be a matter of how the methods and objects developed in the proof are useful in other contexts. 

It helps to have lots of work to do, so that as things take their time in being assessed and being influential, you are not waiting. You finish a book, it comes out, and you start another while doing your talks and publicity. You have a series of articles to work on. Or, you are exhausted and rest for months and do not get in the fray. You will need to respond to questions and queries, and you may need to keep abreast of other's work related to yours. But what's crucial is not to be waiting. If redoing your kitchen or going duck hunting work for you, fine. Get married, attend to your children and parents, improve your musicianship. 

In the longer run, you will do more work. You may be awarded recognition. But what counts is the work you keep on doing, your children, and your students.

Monday, December 16, 2013

"Thinking in Time" "Essence of Decision"

I am rereading Thinking in Time by Neustadt and May. They speak of the experienced professionals who are their students: it is about how prudently to use (historical) analogy, and it provides a mini-method for thinking in this mode. Students who are as well experienced professionals bring lots of experience to the table, and so lots of examples, and what they need to learn is how to use that experience and those examples in a critical fashion, with a sense of what scholarship can contribute to their work. The examples  are about leadership, government, institutions, etc. Neustadt is a political scientist famous for his work on the presidency, May is an historian who has written lots on intelligence and the like (and he was a consultant to the 9/11 Commission and other attempts to revise the intelligence community, and Zelikow was his coworker on the Kennedy tapes). 

Allison and Zelikow's second edition of Essence of Decision, is a study of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The first edition was drawn from Allison's doctoral dissertation, I believe.They famously talk of Model I, II, and III: rational, organizational, and bureaucratic political modes. If you are going to talk about lenses and paradigms and decisionmaking, this is the place to start. Zelikow was on the 9/11 commission staff, its head I believe. 

All of this is well known in some circles. So if you know this work, all I can suggest is that you go back to some of it. I have been rereading both books, in the context of my defense policy course, and was struck again by their value. They are a bit formulaic, providing mini-methods, but surely they would help students (and professors, and political and policy actors) organize their thinking.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Hatchet Jobs (and Puffery) in Tenure and Promotion Hurt the School's Reputation in the University

Promotion dossiers must be fair, neither ignoring problems, nor focusing only on them. Otherwise the provost is likely to distrust the department and the school's dean, and such distrust has long-term consequences.

Process and procedure must be clean. If one of the committee members is known to have strong feelings about a candidate as a scholar, it is probably better to replace that person. Moreover, everyone should understand that denying tenure to a candidate, does not mean a replacement favored by a committee member is likely to be appointed. 

Canards and gossip about a candidate and their work, unless the claims are well supported by evidence (and then they no longer are canards and gossip!), should be kept to oneself. Hence, a claim that the most well-thought-of piece of the candidate's work was published in a journal edited by their spouse, without real evidence that standard refereeing was not employed,  does not belong anywhere in the process.

If you read the letters first, and then the committee report, and that report seems quite selective in its summary of the letters, it is likely the committee's report will be ignored. Only a balanced and fair account of the work and the letters will carry any weight. If comparisons are made with other candidates up for tenure, be sure that all recent candidates are considered. 

It is not good to compare two tenure cases at one meeting, although it is fine to consider multiple cases at one meeting. And leaving out other recent cases makes the discussion less convincing. I am all for raising notions of what is appropriate for tenure, but that has to be done fairly. 

It may be coincidental, but if say in the last five years an African-American woman and a Native-American woman are both denied, yet a problematic Anglo man is encouraged to submit further evidence in the seventh year, so as to be reconsidered, and is then tenured--you've got to convince outsiders that you have been fair.

If a candidate delivers on their third year review's concerns, you have to take that into account.

Quality considerations need to be topmost. If the letters praise the quality, yet the committee feels that quality is not there, they need to deal with their difference with the letter writers they have chosen.

If numbers are problematic, be sure that the numbers now demanded are similar to other candidates over the last few years.

All the university sees is the dossier. If there are concerns or enthusiasms, they must be expressed there.

Off-Scale Scholars. Quality Inflation.

Sam Schweber refers to Feynman, Dyson, Bethe, and some others as off-scale scientists. I was thinking about this when I came upon the CV of one of our electrical engineering faculty members. It is stellar, and the faculty member is still in the middle of their career. I am not sure off-scale applies in this case, but we might think of this scholar as extraordinarily productive and creative (call them PC++). When I look around at most faculty at reasonably strong universities, they are well below such a level. Keep in mind that almost all members of the National Academies are at best PC+. And most faculty at most strong universities, if you are lucky, are PC (although many might be PC-).

So it behooves us to deflate most letters of reference, most assessments made at promotion and tenure committee meetings, and realize that we are assessing good-enough performance, almost always, and whether or not it is present.

Is someone reasonably productive and is their work recognized by their community and peers?
Is their work good, in that there are no major flaws, and the claims are well grounded.
Have they made a coherent contribution to scholarship?
Do they have a future path that is likely to be productive, recognized, and coherent?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Don't use these words, ever.

These are Google translations from the English to French, German, and Italian.
These terms are taken from a document proposing a new direction for an organization. Here are wordles of the whole document (top 150 words), its prefactory section (in two layouts, the second with the top 250 words).

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Citation/Impact and Real Impact. Are there too few publications venues for important scrupulous work?

There is no substitute for letters of reference that describe the contribution of the work and its impact on thinking and work in the field. Citation numbers are very rough indicators, and in general what you might notice are very high and very low numbers. In-between is unlikely to be helpful.  That means that those of who write letters must present good cases about contribution and impact. Impact and citation numbers are gamed all the time, but if they are not in accord with the letters it’s likely they will be ignored.  

Put differently, only those close to the top, but surely not there, will brag about the numbers. The work itself should speak to the field.

As for "luxury" (high impact, very high prestige) journals, such as Science, our fields are not endowed with such journals. (Full disclosure, I have published in Science.) All the problems were legion well before the luxury notion was bruited about. It’s not the luxury journals that make people into crooks. And it is not those deans and departments that do not carefully read the work and the letters—there’s a well-known phrase, “deans can count but they can’t read” (and there is empirical work testing this). I am sure that no one reading this is subject to this accusation, but… 

I doubt that dishonesty/paper is much greater than in the past. If you want a nightmare, put the dissertations granted by your department through Turnitin. I did that for a random sample (not from my department),  and ¾ of the Similarity Scores were over 5%, and they ranged into 16-18%.  (I eliminated stuff in quotation marks, stuff from the students’ papers, phrases less than 10 words, and the bibliography.)

I think open journals idea are fine, if the refereeing is good. If there are so many wonderful pieces of work, they surely should be well-published. I observe that all journals have some clunkers, and all have rejected Nobel-prize work.

People ought to try to make their work scrupulously strong, never send journals work that has not been reviewed by colleagues, and realize how difficult it is to do such work. My experience in reviewing has been somewhat disappointing (perhaps they choose to have me review the worst papers?).   We have to up our game.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Academic Dual Labor Markets

Most PhD's do not publish much if anything. If they expect a job at a research university, it won't happen. If they expect a teaching job, with little or no research demanded, the competition is quite fierce.

Yes, there surely is dualization, with adjuncts etc, vs. those with tenure track positions. Always has been from what I have read of the 30s, 40s, and early 50s in the US. There was a period when the demand for PhD holders to become professors was comparable to supply, in the US, about late-1950s-1970 or so. The history in Germany, 1870 to at least WWII and probably until 1970, was a very long period in one's career of not becoming a professor. Few such jobs, actually.

My advice to those who find themselves dual'ed out is to find another career. In fact, all doctoral students should think about careers other than being professors. Research in organizations and government, ...  It would be good if more students decided not to become doctoral candidates early on, at least if they expected to become professors at universities peer to their doctoral institution. Surely we would lose some great future scholars, but not many. 

When I was 40 (1984), I decided to look elsewhere. Foundations, journalism,...  The joke was that when I went to one foundation looking for a job, they ended up giving me a grant.

The call I received in 1984 to teach at USC for a semester was going to be a lovely interlude (I liked LA), and then I was going to move on.
Yes, I had a tenure track job at MN from 1974-1980, but by 1978 I knew this was not the place for me, and since nothing came along, I went off to the National Humanities Center in 1978 without much of a sense of what next. When I went to MIT to visit in 1980, it was for a semester, and I planned to move on. That it became a 4 year visit, with grants etc, was fortunate but not a solution. 

If nothing had developed at USC, and it surely was not in prospect when I arrived to teach for a semester in 1984, I would have moved on.  I was appointed for Fall 1985 in a tenure-track position as a untenured associate professor (it turned out to be long-term), but at that point I had published a book, had lots of published articles, major fellowships, etc.  My track record was not enough to get me tenure, albeit most faculty at most institutions receive tenure with less deep research achievements and honors

Note that for most of 1968-1985, I almost always had a full time job, usually grants, fellowship, teaching, post doc, so in no sense was I pecuniarily dualized. And I did have a tenure track job at MN and gave it up, which at 36 makes no sense, but that is what I did.