Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Really Fast Blogging, 5/20/14: On Dinesh D'Souza, Arthur Sulzberger and on Adjunct Use in US Colleges

1.  Dinesh D'Souza has entered a guilty plea:

Conservative author and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza entered a guilty plea Tuesday to a charge that he used straw donors to make $20,000 in illegal contributions to Republican Senate candidate Wendy Long in 2012, officials said.
The unexpected guilty plea came on the same day the trial for the strident critic of President Barack Obama was set to open in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.
Most of the story is available at the above link. 

I have read some of his writing.  The guy loves his flamboyantly conservative conclusions and then seeks for anecdotes or partial stuff to support them.  That doesn't set him apart from most propagandists, though his use of the little anecdote and personal opinion seemed to me rather extreme even within that group.

The point of this short post is that I'm not getting pleasure from D'Souza's current troubles, despite his opinion of himself as the moral and religious person fighting the forces of evil.  I'd get more pleasure about a court case in which his writings entered the guilty plea of having been based on trickery.

2.  Arthur Sulzberger, the publisher of the New York Times, has come out with more comments about the firing of Jill Abramson, the previous executive editor of the Times.  Many of those comments aren't very helpful, because Arthur is not great at affecting wider opinions.  Here he brings in Dean Baquet's sorta role in the firing:

At that dinner, “I learned the severity of his feelings,” Sulzberger said, which I took to mean that Baquet gave Sulzberger an ultimatum of sorts. Baquet himself had earlier been offered a job at Bloomberg News. Now, Sulzberger worried that Baquet might leave. “At that point, we risked losing Dean, and we risked losing more than Dean,” Sulzberger said. “It would have been a flood, and a flood of some of our best digital people.” Sulzberger went into the office the next day and relayed to Abramson that his meeting with Baquet had not gone well. He gave himself 24 hours to make sure he was doing the right thing, he said. Then he offered the executive-editor job to Baquet. On Friday, May 9, he told Abramson it was time to make a change. The announcement was made five days later, on Wednesday, May 14. 

I could be quite mistaken, but my guess is that Sulzberger in the linked interview tried to turn the Abramson firing into a sort of upper class version of Oppression Olympics, by oddly passing the blame for what happened to both Abramson's nastiness and the threat of losing Baquet altogether if Abramson wasn't kicked out.   Sulzberger had to act so that the Times wouldn't lose Baquet (and others)*!  What can a guy do when he has to choose between a "first" great black guy editor and a "first" nasty white female editor?

What would you like him to do, hmm?

As I said, perhaps I'm imagining the hint here.  But the real blame doesn't belong to Baquet and framing it all in those terms is lamentable.  It is Sulzberger who has the power to fire and hire here, and if he made the wrong hiring decisions in the previous round it's still only his fault, not Baquet's fault.

3.  Finally, on the use of adjuncts** in American universities.  Adjuncts are like contract workers, people who were initially lured into the academia by the promise of a long-but-narrow-and-guaranteed bread over their lifetimes and the promise of a life spent thinking and writing and teaching, but who now often find themselves working hard in order to scrape together minimum wages, without an office, health insurance or retirement.  According to some estimates, adjuncts might be two-thirds of the academic teaching force, though exact figures are hard to get.

If markets actually work in labor, we would expect there to be a supply-side response.  The worse the outlook is for people with PhDs, the fewer will choose to enter those fields.  Something that looks like a great short-term idea for colleges (get cheap labor with lots of flexibility) may not be such a good idea in the longer term, even for the colleges (it's not good in the short term for the adjuncts, for research or for the students), because the faucets spewing out future workers will turn to drip-drip if being such a future worker is not a nice job in the ivory towers but scraping together a meager living with no security.


*But elevating Dean Baquet doesn't seem to stop people from leaving.
**The linked piece is just an introduction into the topic of adjunct use and may conflate somewhat different phenomena.