Things I have been thinking about

I’m trying to get back in the habit of posting here, even if it’s not super important, interesting, or research-related.

Yesterday, I submitted another small grant application for OPOSSEM. We need some MediaWiki development work done, and [surprise] I haven’t been able to find anyone able or willing to work for free. Hopefully, with some funds available, we can hire a firm to get the wiki-based textbook going. Also, I exchanged a flurry of emails this morning about next steps: including getting an official launch message out there, figuring out how to recognize and reward user contributions, and hopefully starting a project similar to the Wikipedia Ambassadors program, but for the OPOSSEM textbook. Of course, that will be easier once the programming is done on the MediaWiki site.

I also exchanged a round of emails with various folks about open-source publishing, not strictly OPOSSEM-related, but also in journals. It is apparently an issue that is percolating at the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences. A similar debate is going on in the U.S. Of course, there’s also the recent debate about Elsevier and their prices for bundled journal subscriptions. I don’t have anything to add here, but I do find the politics of this interesting. And, I do tend to think that much knowledge is publicly funded through university and targeted research funding, and therefore, the fruits of that funding should be a public good, as widely available as possible. However, faculty members tend to be a conservative bunch, and really it’s going to require academics to be a little less resistant to change and more open to new and different metrics of “quality” than whether a small number of gatekeepers at certain journals deem content to be of quality.

Finally, last week I learned something new about academic hiring practices in Canada, and I’ve been thinking about it a bit since we have a couple of on-going searches in our department right now. I knew that all academic ads in Canada include some language about first priority for Canadian (resident or citizen) applicants. Clearly, it’s not an insurmountable hurdle, since I got hired up here, and many others do as well. I had always assumed it was a sort of Canada-first employment policy that applied to all jobs. Turns out it’s not. It just (or mostly?) applies to academic jobs, which was explained to me by Daniel Béland during coffee chitchat during last week’s graduate student conference (awesome, BTW…. the US could stand to have more of these opportunities for grad students). In any event, I skimmed a couple of articles about the policy to supplement what Daniel told me, and now, I find it fascinating.

Short version: In the late 60s, a number of academics were worried about the influx of Americans into the Canadian academic job market, and [though I don’t know whether it was material or cultural interests driving it] they framed a movement around the effect this was having on the content (i.e., too much American sociology, not enough CanCon) of the curriculum in Canadian universities. In 1982, the movement successfully got a provision added to immigration law to protect academic jobs from non-Canadian academics. At least one article suggests that the movement had the effect of increasing CanCon in campus curricula in the social sciences.

I’m curious about the effect the law has on the Canadian academic job market, and also on the training of Canadian PhDs. Economists certainly would have one hypothesis about the effects of protectionism on an industry, but I wonder whether that applies here. And, of course, I wouldn’t really want to touch that debate directly with a 10 foot pole. My sense is that enough universities find ways around the law if they really want to, and there is a fundamental problem in Canada of not enough growth in tenure-track jobs to satisfy the number of PhDs we produce collectively (and I do think the academy has a collective responsibility to try to employ as many of the qualified individuals we train, or stop training them). So, it’s complicated. And, interesting. And that’s all I have to say about that. 😀