The Three Gifts of Tenure

Scarlet Letter

I will say it up front. Tenure is cool, and the opposite, “contingent” employment, really sucks. I was an adjunct for about two years in the 1990s, and I know from first hand experience that it sucked. Why?

Well there were a couple of reasons. First, was that I was constantly on the job market, since I did not know where my income was coming from the following semester. This is a condition that college teachers share with many workers in the modern economy, on the funny assumption that the more scared you are of catastrophe, the harder you will work.

But scared teachers do not develop their repertoire, either in teaching or research. Delivering a 15 week class takes 3-4 semesters to “get right,” meaning to get the rhythm of what you need to say, how it fits together, what assignments fit in best. And of course the jokes need to be right—and that takes practice, too. Three to four times, and it starts becoming easy—and 10-12 times it becomes boring, as your “lecture” notes yellow and turn stale.

A second gift of tenure is the capacity to develop a research program—you can only do this if you have a reasonable confidence of continued income. Research programs, whether they are your own, or your graduate students, take several years to manage and develop. Books? About five years. Articles, a little less.  Such projects do not fit in well to semester-to-semester contracts.

And the third gift of tenure is that it puts you on an equal footing with your “boss.” This is important because, well, not all bosses, are that great at supervising teachers, whether they are tenured or not—just ask the adjuncts who are indeed supervised by Department Chairs elected by the tenured faculty.

This part of the gift of tenure has two different causes. First is the fact that teaching is inherently difficult to supervise—a supervisor cannot really “supervise” more than a fraction of their work, nor can they use a clock, or other mechanism to monitor anything of significance in the classroom. This is something that those who supervise teaching should know, but often do not acknowledge.  Or rather they invent proxies like “Student Evaluation of Teaching,” which ask students about their experience, or ask you what you have printed on your syllabus, as if that is really what happens in class.

The second part of the “chair” problem is that the chairs and deans who hire adjunct faculty are not necessarily very good managers of adjuncts—they are hired by tenured faculty to serve (not manage) tenured faculty. Supervising adjuncts is for them just a side gig—the real action is with those who elected them, i.e. the tenure track faculty. As a result many are not necessarily very good at managing “contingent employees.” What does it mean to be lousy at supervising adjuncts?

–Not let the adjunct know what they will be teaching or take away an assigned class and give it to a tenured person at last minute

–Say or do anything which lets contingent employees believe that they might not have a job next semester/year.

–Change up preps unexpectedly–or change class sizes erratically

–Use anecdotal student gossip to write reviews, whether it comes in hushed tones in the office, through written reviews, informal discussion with tenured faculty, or ratemyprofessor.com.

–Publish a job ad with the classes taught by contingent employees in them.

–Otherwise keep the adjunct off-balance regarding their professional status.

And then of course there is the problem of pay, which like it or not is central what we do. The stories of adjuncts on welfare are of course legion. Not every campus does it, but paying $2,000-$3000 per class for a full-time adjunct (with ten courses being a full-load) is a recipe for penury, short-term employment, and high employee turnover. And what can I say? Quick turnover of teachers is harmful to teaching quality—and in the university world, “quick” means every 5-6 years. After all, how can you prepare a “full quiver” of classes in a shorter time? Student success suffers from teachers who are not treated as highly skilled professionals, and have a tougher time developing as a professional as a result.

And this says nothing of a research program which oddly enough, some adjuncts still put together on the side.

My Appreciation for Tenure

I’ve been on tenure track since 1998, and had tenure since 2003.  This has indeed been a blessing, particularly when I compare my working conditions to my adjunct colleagues who are under constant threat of lay-off. What has it permitted me to do?

Accept new course preps, and explore new fields without fear of short-term failure, which in the adjunct world means a few students complaining to a dean or chair about you. Sometimes this happened, mostly it didn’t—but even when it does, I can be confident that the comments will not be taken out of context.

Re-establish the Asian Studies major, for which I was a “voluntary advisor” for three years. This is something I am enormously proud of—and would not have done without the freedom of tenure protections.  I was also able to participate in “General Education Reform” in a fashion which I hoped reflected abstract academic goals for student achievement, rather than the narrow “butts in seats” metrics of standard university administration by “full-time equivalent students (FTES).”

Publish six books, an write a number of articles, one of which received a comeuppance letter from the politically connected United States Ambassador to Tanzania. Because I was tenure track, I got an “attaboy” from my Chair at the time. Imagine if I had been contingent—I would have been afraid that such a high government official could get me fired, or at least put in the pathway of “I’m sorry it looks like there are no classes for you next semester.”

In short, my employment guarantee gives me the freedom to experiment without fear to my livelihood. Do some of my colleagues take advantage of this? Probably—but the fact of the matter is that the freedom my tenure gives me exists only in such a context. If I didn’t have an employment guarantee I would be back to sending out my c.v. every semester and keeping my head low in hopes that I could put together a living, rather than developing a scholarly career.

I’m Sorry, Next Semester We Do Not Have Any Classes For You!

The opposite of tenure, lack of employment security, though actually drags the institution of higher education down further. To understand this, I need only listen to the whispered fears of my adjunct colleagues. They fear trying new things, requesting professional courtesies I take for granted, requesting justified raises, attending conferences, taking on new preps, or pushing back when more students are pushed at them.  Indeed the ability of administrators to push more students at the adjuncts is why they typically teach teach larger sections than their tenured colleagues. Adjuncts are also hesitant about expressing themselves frankly in meetings. Many fear becoming involved in the union not because of what the union does, but because they fear administrators will deliver the dreaded and vague message, “next semester we do not have any classes for you.”

This post is an adaptation of “I’m Sorry, Next Semester We Do Not Have Any Classes for You!” which was posted in January 2015 here at Ethnography.com.

Max Weber was a funny guy!

That’s right, Max Weber, the dour looking social theorist on the cover of you social theory text made jokes. How do I know this? Well, my wife and I just published a new book Weber’s Rationalism: New Translations on Politics, Bureaucracy, and Social Stratification, and this post is an essay about why you should read it!

      In particular, Weber’s classic essay “Politics as Vocation” has real zingers in it.

Tony-Cover of Weber book

Some examples of the wit and sarcasm of Max:

      Vanity is a very widely spread trait and probably nobody is entirely free of it.

 

Certainly, among scholars and academic circles it is kind of an occupational disease.

Nevertheless, especially for a scholar, vanity is distasteful when it expresses itself, but it is relatively harmless because it does not disrupt the functioning of academic organizations. This is completely different in a politician for whom the pursuit of power is a means unto itself. (pp 181-182).

But Weber was not going to only take potshots at academics, he also had some fine words for politicians as well, writing as he was during the German Revolution of 1918-1919. Specifically he said:

 But there is one remark I would like to make: At this time and day of pure excitement and passion—even though not all excitement is caused by true convictions—politicians on an outrageous scale run wild with slogans like:

 

‘It is the world, it is dumb, stupid and mean! It is not me! I am not responsible for the consequences. The consequences are the responsibility of others for whom I work. But I will eradicate their stupidity, arrogance, and nastiness!’

 

To put it bluntly, I ask myself firstly, are such people truly serious about any ethical and moral convictions? I am convinced that in nine out of ten cases, they are windbags puffed up with hot air about themselves. They are not in touch with reality, and they do not feel the burden they need to shoulder—they just intoxicate themselves with romantic sensations. (p. 196)

And then he really lets politicians have it when he writes the following about the characters who turn to that profession:

Politics is made with the head, not with the other parts of body, nor the soul. (p. 181)

I know, you are probably wondering what is so funny about that last one?  What does he mean when he advises politicians to not make politics with either the soul or “other” parts of the body?  What exactly is the “other” part of the body used to “make politics?”  Anyway,  I don’t think Weber was thinking of hands and feet! Politicians in those days too had fleshly temptations, and giving into them could only lead to poor political decisions, as generation after generation of politicians continually re-discover!

Admittedly, the humor in our new translations is nestled among Weber’s more serious gems of insight which are couched in in more lofty prose.   But wit and wisdom go together, and in our translations and the pages of accompanying editorial material, which we wrote, there are plenty of both.

How prescient? President Bill Clinton said that “Politics as Vocation” was one of the 21 best books he had ever read—it is in the same list with his wife Hillary’s auto-biography!

And there is more humor in “Politics as Vocation,” including endearing comments by Weber about men who blame their wives for their own affairs, and random potshots at political nemeses among the revolutionary politicians of 1919 Germany like Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebkencht, and Kurt Eisner,  and even snarky remarks about politicians in the United States and Russia.  But you need to get the book to read about these!

Besides the rip-roaring oratory of Weber’s “Politics as Vocation, first delivered in the lecture hall of the University of Munich in 1919, in our book there are also new fresh translations of Weber’s classic essays “Class, Status, Party;” “Discipline and Charisma;” and “Bureaucracy.” All four translations are new, fresh, and littered with footnotes to help you understand both Weber’s wisdom and humor!

Now for those of you convinced this is worth $90+ , you can have your copy of our new book delivered by Amazon.com either by the post office, or wirelessly to your Kindle. If you don’t have an extra $90+, you can tell your library that they cannot do without this book. Here is a convenient link from our publisher to recommend the book.  Please click on this link and tell your library that they should indeed buy a copy so you can quickly check out the wit and wisdom of St. Max.

A pre-publication version of Chapter 1 is here.

Happy reading!

 

Campbell’s Law, Planned Social Change, Vietnam War Deaths, and Condom Distributions in Refugee Camps

Donald T. Campbell was a psychologist in the 1970s. During this time, the belief emerged that society was a social engineering project that could be planned and evaluated.  The general idea was  that if you collected enough data, you could plan and control social change in a way that led to desired results.  Economists from USAID believed this about economic development, military planners in Vietnam believed it, and Sociologists in the War on Poverty believed it.  But by 1976, Campbell wasn’t so sure…

The generation of social scientists Campbell critiqued ran around measuring poverty, illiteracy, disease, Communism, and other bad things.  Thus in the 1970s you had Wars on Poverty, Smallpox, Illiteracy, Drugs, and so forth.  There were also violent wars in Vietnam (for the Americans), and in Afghanistan (for the Russians).  When I lived in Tanzania in the 1980s, the Tanzanian government had wars on Poverty, Ignorance, and Disease, all funded by international donors living out this paradigm.  Planners in Washington, New York, Dar Es Salaam, and elsewhere calculated with statistical precision what was needed for victory in their “war,” and allocated government money to produce the desired victory.  Their decisions were “data driven” and “evidence based,”  to borrow two words common in policy making circles today.

Campbell was involved in such projects himself.  He was so much part of them that he wrote an unfortunately obscure paper, “Assessing the Impact of Planned Social Change” which reflects on the psychology of planners.  More interesting for this blog, though, is the fact that what he was really doing was taking the ethnographic temperature of number-assessed planners.   Campbell’s Law is as follows:

The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.

In Vietnam, Campbell pointed out, the quantitative social indicator was “enemy killed.”  Thus, he noted, this measure was corrupted as dead civilians were re-defined as “enemy,” and occasionally villages were invaded in the hope that at the unit would have kill-metric which could be rewarded.  Two examples added by other social scientists including the following: Cardiac surgeons declined to operate on seriously ill because such patients were more likely to die (duh).  They did this because the state began issuing “scorecards” rooted in survival rates.  So, since the very sick were the most likely to die in surgery (or on their own), the doctors declined to operate on the seriously sick, and preserved their high survival rates.  Another example of Campbell’s Law comes from airline schedules.  Airlines began to be scored on the basis of “on-time arrivals” in the 1980s.  They responded by simply increasing estimated flight times, thereby driving up their “on-time” rates—anytime you arrive early at a destination, thank Campbell’s Law; tailwinds probably did not have much to do with it!

Citing “Campbell’s Law” when critiquing the United States’ “No Child Left Behind Act” is something of a fad in education circles today.  This is because high stakes testing for science and math drives decision-making about student promotion, teacher retention, and school closures.  Thus, you get extensive test prep of students in reading and math, with resultant dilution of subjects like history, science, music and the arts which are not tested for.  And of course, the ultimate vindication of Campbell’s Law are the cheating scandals by schools and teachers concerned only about “succeeding” on test day.

Campbell’s law also applies well to other bureaucratic endeavors, especially those of applied social scientists.  My own experience is in Tanzania where projects to assist refugees or villagers were created with quantitative goals and objectives to satisfy donors, independent of what was needed or wanted by the villagers (or refugees) they were assisting.  My favorite version of Campbell’s Law was the many broken diesel-powered water projects that littered western Tanzania in the 1980s and 1990s.  Indeed a book called Watering White Elephants was written about this phenomenon.  Many of these were funded with the bureaucratic “Health for All by the year 2000” goal of WHO in mind. Quantitative reports showing that the goals of the project in terms of villagers served, villages with pumps, etc., were met.

For the refugees I worked with in Tanzania between 1994 and 1996, a good example was the numerical goal established for birth control in the Rwandan refugee camps.  This was right after the Rwanda genocide, and the UN was concerned about the exploding birth rates, and the costs that would be incurred by their child health programs.  The result was a bright idea: Condoms all around!  In `1995-1996, four million condoms were distributed in record time by a USAID program, a quantitative  result trumpeted at NGO meetings I attended (Quick: 4 million condoms spread across 450,000 refugees means that USAID is assuming what about the frequency of refugee sex???).

The visiting anthropologist hired to evaluate the program though pointed to the corruption of the condom distribution program.  The condoms, she found were not used to prevent births, which continued to rise quickly, even nine months (or more) after the big distribution.  Rather the condoms became a marker for young men to display their prowess.  The young men cut off the end of the condom and wore it as a bracelet to represent conquests.  Campbell’s Law wins again!

Indeed, there is a ethnographic field worker’s version of Campbell’s Law which was written by the development economist Teodor Shanin in 1966 at the height of the Cold War.  Central planners in Moscow, Washington, and Beijing were running around the world applying the econometric models (Washington), or assumptions about central state planning (Moscow and Beijing) to Third World projects.  The result was Campbell’s Law writ large, as the planners with their emphasis on production targets, development plans, and so forth created goals which implementers adjusted their programs to match.  The result was that in places like the Congo, Vietnam,and  Afghanistan, all the great powers were ultimately frustrated.  Echoing Campbell’s law, Shanin wrote about the corruption of the quantitative social indictors in the following way:

Day by day, the peasants make the economists sigh, the politicians sweat, and the strategists swear, defeating their plans and prophecies all over the world—Moscow and Washington, Peking and Delhi, Cuba and Algeria, the Congo and Vietnam”  Shanin (1966).

Which in the end points to the strengths of the ethnographic method, since after all Campbell’s Law applies to quantitative measures, not qualitative.  As long as ethnographers are the harmless fuzzballs on the wall, they are able to write about processes, interactions, relationships, and so forth that quantitative measures typically miss.  After all, Campbell’s Law itself is ultimately an ethnographic conclusion about the nature of quantitative methods. Ethnographic method may not be grand, or easily adapted to manage large bureaucratic projects, but in its insight, it can be used to describe the limitations of more quantitative projects.

Reposted from Ethnography.com (2010).

“Notes on the Murders of Thirty of My Neighbors”

Writer Jim Myers wondered why 30 of his neighbors were murdered just one mile east of the United States Capitol building during the 1990s. In an investigation of the conditions that led to such a high toll, he found that there was a wide range of circumstances, including, “drive-by killings, run-by killings, sneak up killings, gunfights and battles, car chases…drug killings, vengeance killings, the killing of witnesses to other crimes, accidental killings, and killings that enforce values we can only vaguely fathom.” The killings occurred in a context in which handguns were common, and an illegal drug economy thrived.

By personalizing the victims and perpetrators in The Atlantic in March 2000, Myers provides a nuanced picture of a community where fear, youthful bravado, and distrust of broader law enforcement leads to fighting, confrontations, killings, and woundings. Notably, the characteristics he describes are not only those of the ones holding the guns or peddling the drugs. Rather there is a generalized fear in the community, the anticipation of the unknown by large numbers of people, that provides the context for the killing.

The “epidemic” of thirty killings Myers wrote about occurred in Police Service Area 109 of Washington, DC, an area only 11 blocks wide, between 1992 and 1998. Twenty-six of the thirty victims were black, and one of the whites was a police officer. Three of the killings were by police officers. Many of the victims and shooters had attended Payne Elementary School, which despite its proximity to the iconic U. S. Capitol building, was one of the most segregated schools in the country. Out of 332 students in 1999, 330 were black, and none were white. Over two-thirds of the 30 killings occurred within 1,000 feet of the school. Four of the victims had been members of the same basketball team.

Myers begins his story by drawing a contrast between the highly publicized killing spree by two teenagers at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, with what happened in his Washington, DC neighborhood. In the case of Columbine, 13 middle class students were killed in a single day. The incident received international publicity, and politicians from the President on down publicly bemoaned the cultural situation leading to the deaths. In contrast, eighteen of the thirty deaths Myers tracked were unsolved at the time he wrote his article. While several had not even received an article in the local newspaper, the murder of a white police officer received widespread publicity including a mention in one of President Clinton’s speeches bemoaning street violence.

On the micro level, Myers’ descriptions of killing in Washington, DC illustrate well the role of youth, impulsiveness, gangs, bravado, guns, and alcohol in setting the context for killing. Most of the killings were of young males by other young males, on the street. The killings often involved dares and affronts to male machismo; one assault, would lead to a dare, and another assault. The person hurt might or might not have been the cause of the initial assault, thus creating a further grievance, and a widening circle of potential enemies. For example, police “solved administratively” the 1992 death of Theodore Fulwood—they stopped their investigation without officially identifying his killers because the police believed the killers themselves had been murdered. Because Fulwood was the brother of a former police chief, the Washington Post pursued the story and found out that Rowmann Dildy and his cousin Thaddeus Latta were believed to be the gunmen, and had killed Fulwood after an “altercation…over a drug transaction.” Dildy was killed in April 1993. Latta was murdered in 1995 in the same neighborhood, and his murder is also unsolved. What is left in the neighborhood is a sense of fear, suspicion, and distrust. No one knows who has killed, and who might kill next.

So in addition to the issues of youth and impulsiveness, Myers’ story was also about a neighborhood, or a portion of a neighborhood, where people sought a sense of both safety and justice. Around the area of Payne School, the police could not deliver this sense, because they were perceived as being both untrustworthy, and ineffective. Young males in the neighborhood believed that police contact resulted in harassment, and did not view them as all-powerful allies in the settlement of grievances. Potential witnesses were afraid to speak to the police and become witnesses, both because they might have had something to hide, or simply because they feared retaliation on the streets. The unsolved death of one 54 year old woman was attributed to the fact that she herself witnessed a killing; the power and legitimacy of the law becomes tattered in such a context, and potential witnesses would not come forward. Such killings reinforced fears of retaliation, and made even the appearance of cooperation with the police more difficult.

Myers found out that a number of the “unsolved killings” had in fact been “administratively closed” because the police were convinced that the killer himself was killed, and the case therefore no longer worth pursuing. In this context, the police gave up investigations without telling the aggrieved families. Administratively solving crimes without public disclosure protected the rights of the innocent, but also raised a separate question for the family about the legitimacy of police decision-making. And herein lies a lesson about the tension between privacy rights, the need to know and “find closure,” and justice. Justice, in part, was the need for not only the family, but also the neighborhood to know and understand that blame was assigned, and justice provided. But it is also about protecting the reputations of deceased people who themselves have been victims.

For the community, in traditional terms, assigning blame is called justice; in pop psychology it is called closure. It is something that happened in Columbine where the killers who committed suicide had blame clearly and effectively assigned to them. But, somehow, in the more amorphous world of an impoverished Washington, DC neighborhood, such an assignment of blame did not occur, and the cause of justice suffered as a consequence. Families of Columbine’s victims traumatized as they were, were at least able to achieve “closure.” As Myers (and Durkheim) note, this is an important part in reconstructing society after the trauma of such a crime. But this never happened in Washington DC, where the privacy rights of the dead “killers” were respected. Was one result that, with a lack of “closure,” angry people took justice into their own hands, and killed again?

Further Reading

Myers, Jim, “Notes on the Murder of Thirty of my NeighborsThe Atlantic Monthly, March 2000. Pages 72-86.

Excerpted from When Killing is a Crime by Tony Waters.  Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2007.

The Case of the Exploding Pinto

A by-product of the industrial age are accidents by companies seeking to create wealth for themselves. Both hiring workers, and selling products creates a question of who is responsible for the safety of working conditions and products. And more important, who is responsible when a product fails, or an accident happens? Is it the person who buys or sells the product? Is it the responsibility of the company who buys or sells labor? Or is it the responsibility of the consumer?

A particularly well-known story of product safety is that of the Ford Pinto. This was made particularly famous when in a seven-page cost-benefit analysis done by Ford Motor Company valued human lives at $200,000 and concluded that it was cheaper to be sued by the predicted 180 burn fatalities, and 180 serious burn victims, than make an $11 design modifications on a predicted 11 million cars. Indeed, the lawsuit estimated that lawsuits would cost $49.5 million which was far less than the $137 million needed to re-design and retrofit the popular low-cost car (Strobel 1980:286).

Local governments wrestled with questions of product liability in the way they administer civil and criminal law. For the Pinto, the best example of this occurred, in August 1978, when three Indiana girls died in an accident in which their Pinto was rear-ended by Robert Duggar. Duggar, who had a poor record of driving, as well as open alcohol containers in the vehicle was not charged in the accident. But then the Elkhart County District Attorney Michael Cosentino took an unusual step. There had already been wide publicity regarding the dangers created by the design of the Pinto’s gas tank. Indeed, investigative reporting by Mother Jones magazine in 1977 had revealed that there was a bolt protruding from the axle which punctured the gas tank in the event of a rear-end collision. This design flaw meant that many low impact accidents resulted in lethal explosions, even when the collision was a low speed. Cossentino, pointed out that since the Ford Motor Company was well-aware of this flaw, they could be tried for manslaughter. And under Indiana law this was possible.

The Exploding Pinto

In August 1978, Judy Ulrich drove the Pinto she had bought with her father as a high school graduation present. She had graduated from high school that year, and was on her way to a volleyball game at a church some 20 miles away. She stopped to fill the gas tank of her Pinto, but in leaving the filling station, apparently drove off with the gas cap still on top of the car. The gas cap fell off as she pulled onto the highway. Judy made a U-turn on the Highway, and slowly drove back, looking for her gas cap. Apparently after spotting it by the side of the highway, she slowed. As she slowed, the van driven by 21 year-old Robert Duggar came up behind on the slowing Pinto at 50 mph, well within the speed limit. The van struck hard at the Pinto. The gas tank was forced onto into a protruding bolt on the rear axle which punched a 2 ½ inch hole in the just-filled 11 gallon gas tank. Gas splashed into the passenger compartment, and before the vehicles had come to a stop it exploded.

The Trials of Ford Motor Company

The death of the three Ulrich girls in the Pinto mystified Cosentino and his staff. Six months earlier, one of the investigative staff had read an article about the dangers inherent to the design of the Pinto gas tank in an article published in the September-October 1977 issue of Mother Jones. The article ”Pinto Madness” detailed how the Ford Motor ignored engineers concerns about the safe design of the rear-mounted fuel tank in order to accommodate a corporate goal of producing a 2,000 pound car for less than $2,000, The article indicated further that a follow-up study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that 38 cases of rear-end collisions with Pintos resulted in 27 deaths. Of these deaths 26 died as a result of damaged gas tanks with subsequent fires. Subsequent safety tests conducted by the National Highway Safety and Transportation Administration (NHTSA) revealed that an impact of 35 mph or greater was likely to result in a burst gas tank, and the immolation of any occupants in the vehicle compartment. Subsequently in February 1978, a California jury awarded $128 million in civil damages in an accident involving a 1972 Pinto (the verdict was eventually overturned, and Ford paid only $3.5 million). On June 9, 1978, two months before the Ulriches accident Ford finally announced a recall of the 1.5 million Pintos then on the road.

The death of the Ulrich girls created a legal conundrum for the conservative Republican prosecutor. He could do nothing, and permit the case to go to civil court as it had in the past. Judging from past awards, the girls’ parents would problem win a judgment against Ford Motor Company; he could prosecute Duggar for manslaughter, on the grounds that his reckless behavior had led to the death of the girls. Or, he could try a novel approach, and make a criminal charge against the Ford Motor Company and its executives by making the argument that in ignoring the obvious faults of the Pinto, Ford had committed “reckless homicide.” In other words, without Ford’s recklessness and disregard for consumer’s lives, the accident would not have been fatal..

The Elkhart County Grand Jury gave Cosentino what he had asked for: an indictment of the Ford Motor Company for reckless homicide. The indictment sent a shiver through corporate America. This happened because while the maximum criminal penalty for Ford was a trivial $30,000, executives could in the future be held criminally liable for financial decisions leading to the deaths of consumers.

The Trial of the Ford Motor Company for Manslaughter

At the trial, the expensive legal team for the Ford Motor Company chipped away at the charges. The judge limited the question of recklessness to whether Ford had been too slow in pursuing the recall in the 41 days between the recall and the accident which killed the Ulrich girls. Ford also made the claim that if there was to be criminal liability, it was not the Ford Motor Company which made a product, but the driver of the van who collided with the Pinto, Robert Duggar.

After days of difficult deliberation, the jury returned a unanimous verdict which declared Ford Motor Company to be not guilty of the criminal charges brought by Cosentino. Members of the jury later indicated that although they thought Ford had been negligent, their decision-making did not rise to a level under which a conviction was possible under Indiana’s homicide statute.

How are Decisions Made about Product Safety?

Despite the acquittal in criminal court, a “Pinto Narrative” quickly emerged as being paradigmatic of corporate preference for profits over human life. Like high profile domestic violence cases, the case changed the nature of the running conversation about who is really responsible for death. Despite the courtroom loss, books, articles, and texts continue to hold up the case as the type of conscious decision-making which results in victimization in the pursuit of profit. Provocatively though, sociologists Lee and Erman (1999) called this assumption into question, pointing that “decision makers” working in a corporate environment do not make conscious decisions to market an “unsafe vehicle.” Rather they assert that such amoral calculations emerge not as a result of legal intent, which implies conscious decision-making, but in the context of broader institutional forces which emerge from the institutional cultures (in this case Ford), and the automobile industry in general. What this means of course is court proceedings which probe the minds of individual decision-makers may not be adequate for exploring how decisions leading to a great deal of human suffering occur.

This thesis is important for understanding not only how product safety decisions are made, but how any type of corporate decision-making resulting in death is evaluated. Simply put, correcting the decision making of individuals through the application of criminal law does not by itself result in more moral decisions. Attention has to be paid to the context—that it the ecology—of decision-making.

Further Reading

Lee, Matthew T., and M. David Ermann (1999) “Pinto ‘Madness’ as a Flawed Landmark Narrative: An Organizational and network Analysis.” Social Problems 46 (No 1).

Strobel, Lee Patrick (1980). Reckless Homicide? Ford’s Pinto Trial. South Bend, Indiana: And Books.

Dowie, Mark (1977). “Pinto Madness.” Mother Jones. September/October 1977.

 When Killing is a crime

Excerpt from When Killing is a Crime by Tony Waters, Lynne Ripener Publishers, 2007, pp. 248-250.

The Rochambo of Paradox, Conundrums, Dilemmas, and School Bureaucracies

The below is pp. 185-186 (Chapter 9) of my book Schooling, Childhood, and Bureaucracy: Bureaucratizing the Child. Other extracts can be read here at Ethnography.com

here, (Leaky First Graders, etc.)

here, (How the Rich Educate their Children: A Swiss Hogwarts)

and here. (Children as Raw Material on the Bureaucratic Assembly Line)

Or better yet, you can ask your library to get you a copy, hopefully by getting them to buy a hardcover copy from my publisher, or a used copy from Amazon.com. If you could also send an email to the publisher urging them to issue a cheap soft cover version, that would be appreciated, too.  In either case, I really hope that more people will buy it—besides the fact that I get a 2% (two percent) cut of net revenues, I really like it when people read my books!

Schooling Childhood Cover

The Limits of the Modern American School: Rock, Paper, Scissors

Bureaucracies, while well suited to deal with matters of the rational mind that pragmatic American habitus celebrates, are in fact ill-suited for matters of the heart. Thus, bureaucracies created to undertake the tasks bump up against the three values identified long ago by de Tocqueville and that are at the heart of many continuing American dilemmas. These include first the dialectical tensions over equality, individual rights, and utilitarianism.

They are the rock, paper, scissors of the American educational system. This chapter is about how this game of rochambo is played out in recent decades. In describing the swings, I will move between demands

to eliminate the inequalities of race and poverty, protection of individual rights, and most recently, the appeal to business ethics in the administration of education programs. Three examples will illustrate the dissonance between these three values: The persistence of inequality, the persistence of radical individualism, and the persistent connection between education and business practice.

Paradoxes, conundrums, and dilemmas underlie the cultural habitus of the American school that drives the dreams of parents, teachers, administrators, and ultimately children. But the experimentation that began in the nineteenth century and was designed to lead to an ever more perfect school system, ultimately has practical limits rooted in the nature of its Schooling, Childhood, and Bureaucracy intertwined habitus. And this is where limits to how egalitarian, how individualistic and how efficiently schools can be managed. Because schools ultimately seek to provide equality in a society that is not equal, individuality in an environment that is group focused, and efficiency in an institution in which inputs be controlled, the product defined, nor flawed goods discarded

In the case of the American school, the limits are most identifiable when institutions bump up against the underpinnings that form the habitus of thought and deed of both individual and the society they create. In the United States, these limits are found particularly in how schools continue to wrestle with the most salient features of American society and how it views its children. Prominent is the persistence of inequality rooted in both socioeconomics and race and the preservation these contradictions in the context of American-style business models; oddly enough, this happens in the context of an insistence on the uniqueness and rights of every individual child to seek their own potential. And so like a rochambo game of rock, paper, scissors, one wins and one loses, but the game never really stops. Egalitarianism individualism, and utilitarianism echo through the schools, pushing each other aside, but only temporarily.

Thus when a school becomes more egalitarian, it loses its capacity to recognize individual differences, as indeed happened in the 1980s. When it focuses on pragmatic service to the business community it tends toward inequality, which is what happened as millions of immigrants, African Americans, and others were sorted and tracked into vocational tracks during the twentieth century. And when a school begins to respond to individual needs, it becomes less efficient, and given the inequality in the American social system, it advantages the rich. In other words, over the decades, the American school system has played a game of rochambo as the tensions between the habitus of egalitarianism, utility, and individualism play themselves out.

American Sociological Association Declares Victory and Dissolves. Starts Over Tomorrow.

(GPI Washington)  American Sociological Association (ASA) President Talcott Webber today announced that the ASA was dissolving, effective immediately. In the ASA press release, Webber explained that

We have come to the realization that virtually every other discipline has adopted the sociological approach to not only the social sciences, but also the humanities and some of the natural sciences. All of this is really just sociology under a different name. There is Institutional Economics, Social Psychology, Organizational Theory, Cultural Geography, Ethnography, Literary Theory, Communication, Cultural Theory, Musicology, Socio-cutural Anthropology, Socio-biology, Mirror Neuron stuff, Gender Studies, Ethnic Studies, Evolutionary Psychology, and a host of other disciplines which are nothing but rewarmed Sociology.  Even History has given up their old hagiographic tricks, and come over to do comparative and social history.

 

As for the applied social sciences like Social Work, Education, Public Administration, Geographical Information Systems, Marketing, and so forth, what are they but Social Problems courses? Zuckerberg even once admitted that Facebook is as much sociology as it is technology.  It is clear that imitation is the best form of flattery—and Sociology has won the game!

 

We’ve even had a Sociology major elected to the US Presidency, as well as a First Lady.  A Sociology Professor was even one of the key figures in the United States Senate in the twentieth century.  And look at the op-ed page of the New York Times today.  Krugman is not really an economist, he’s a sociologist focused on issues of economic inequality. Brooks is the ‘conservative’ who quotes Marx, and is really just a closeted Marxian, Weberian, or whatever,

In light of this, ASA is declaring victory. Webber in his characteristically blunt approach explained,

Look, we won, they lost. They are us, so now we can go home, which is why ASA is closing shop. At some point you need to quit while you are ahead.  Why should we wait for a bunch of bean-counting Deans to shut us down when we are the most successful shop on campus?

Webber seems to think that it is problematic that despite the obviously widespread acceptance of the Sociological Imagination, hardly any of the daughter disciplines actually ask their students to take actual Sociology classes. “But what’s the point of having our own discipline, when we are everywhere? If our discipline is everywhere, we need to be everywhere, too.”

In light of this announcement, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has announced that it will support the immediate closure of all Sociology Departments in the United States, and the reassignment of tenured, untenured, and adjunct faculty to the appropriate daughter disciplines. The purpose of this policy shift will be to sharpen the sociological skills in the many departments which have been teaching sociology all along.  To assist with this shift, AAUP is recommending that all adjuncts be granted tenure.

“Look,” said an anonymous source from AAUA.

Why should a retired p.e. coach from the Education Department be teaching ‘Education and Society’ when you can have a well-trained sociologist? Or for that matter, why should some molecular biologist who’s never read Max Weber on social stratification be teaching a course in human cultural evolution? Or someone who’s never read Adorno teach a course in Marketing? Sociologists are the ones who get all this. And I’ve never understood what there is about the ‘socio’ in socio-biology that the Dean of Biology does not understand!

The Association of Post-Modern Sociologists was particularly excited about this development. “Whoa, does this mean we can move into the Business School and teach them about simulacra, consumer culture, and McDonaldization? The Business School—that’s really who needs us. I’m glad to shake the dust off my shoes, and put my backside to the quantoids. Give me Marketing, or give me death!”

As for the statisticians in the discipline, they too were relieved. An anonymous source commented,

You mean we can finally join the Department where they design Student Evaluation of Teaching forms? We can definitely show them a thing or two about reliability and validity of social measures. This will be far better than teaching a bunch of sophomores who hate the obligatory social statistics courses.

As for the ASA’s prime office space on K Street in Washington DC, the ASA is looking to sublet it to their Republican lobbyist neighbors.  There was even a rumor that the resident sociologists from Fox News might move down the street so that they can take advantage of the prestige associated with the academy’s most successful discipline.

After concluding his news conference, President Webber pledged that the institution will reconstitute itself tomorrow with a new name and mission.  “After all,” he said, “bureaucracies, even the ASA, are among the most enduring of all social structures.”