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. 😀

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  • Chris Lawrence

    Interesting thoughts… I’ll skip the OPOSSEM stuff, since you’re probably sick of hearing me talk about OPOSSEM at this point 🙂

    On open access/journals/whatever: the central issue I see is that most academics want external validation of their judgments (appeal to authority, of sorts), hence why we see things like external letters for promotion and tenure, as well as the obsession with the rankings of journals and other metrics like cite counts.  This seems rather silly at some level, since the paper I just sent out is of constant quality, yet will largely be judged based on the ranking of the journal it lands at, no matter how it really ranks in relation to everything else that journal has ever published.  On the whole journal process thing, Laura McKenna had a nice post about it at The Atlantic a week or so ago that’s worth reading if you haven’t seen it.

    It seems to me that the way things are going, you’d need something like what SAGE Open is doing (but about 80% cheaper).  Here’s a model: you upload your paper to the Great Cloud in the Sky and pay a fee of $25-50 USD, you get assigned a submission editor based on the topic, they invite 3-4 reviewers to comment, and the author gets the reviews back along with 4 choices: publish as-is with the reviews attached after the article; revise and resubmit with the same reviewers; revise and resubmit with a new reviewer pool (which you pay an additional fee for); or withdraw the paper.  When the author (and this is the key point, not the submissions editor) decides a paper is ready to “publish” (even if the reviewers think it stinks) then it goes up for a virtual auction among the editors of the journals that are interested in articles in that area (either “dead tree,” online-only, or both; the author can exclude certain journals from contention or maybe pay a small extra fee that goes to the journal to specify that they want a certain journal to consider it); each journal editor gets the right to a finite number of articles they can “buy” a year (for example, you might get 60 articles/year if you publish quarterly, and they pay the Great Cloud a small fee for each article they buy or maybe an annual fee… the economics can be worked out later), they can read the reviews before they buy, and after they buy they can work out with the author the copyright assignment, formatting, copy editing, and other stuff.  The submission fee covers the costs of the submission editing process; the journals can either fund themselves (by selling subscriptions or banner ads), be subsidized by associations or organized sections or grants or something, rely on submitter fees (for example, I’d expect that the APSR or IO or World Politics would be able to rack up some cash from folks wanting to ensure their papers get a look from a major journal), or operate completely online at minimal cost except editors’ time.  Anyway that’s totally long-winded and it wouldn’t have to work exactly that way, but I think it resolves most of the major issues.

    On the Canadian protectionism(?) thing, it seems to me as an external observer (who nonetheless applied for 4 Canadian jobs this year, which is about 3 more than I’ve applied for in the previous 8 combined) that at least some of the issue is that Canada is, to an even greater extent than the U.S., overproducing PhDs in fields, particularly theory, that really don’t have much of a market either in Canada or elsewhere; probably the same issue applies to Canadian politics to some extent, although at least Canadian politics people with the right background should be able to market themselves as comparativists outside of Canada; there also seems to be a lot of interdisciplinary stuff that doesn’t tend to place well even if students think it’s sexy.  Plus there may be less of a market for more teched-up people (since most Canadian departments can satisfy their methods teaching needs with 1 or 2 people at most, and there’s not really the regional comprehensive or LAC market that needs people who can do methods + covering a most of a substantive field), so students don’t get teched up, which means they aren’t competitive outside of Canada for jobs that they could get otherwise.

    Then again I also think the dynamics for a non-star PhD who can’t go right into an R1 TT are a little different: being a sessional in Canada is a better job than being an adjunct in the US due to health care not being an issue in Canada (and surely pays better too), and the salary floors in Canada seem to be higher for the TT (even if the ceiling is lower), so spending 4-6 years as a sessional in hopes of landing a Canadian TT making $60-75k with guaranteed raises makes more economic sense than going straight into the US market but landing at an RC/LAC or even R2 where you’ll make $40-50k* and get raises at a lower rate (if at all).

    Wow that really rambled.  Sorry 🙂

    * Not accounting for exchange rates or the prospect of some arbitrage issues (for example, a Canadian with student loans who moved to the US in 2000 would be hurting now paying back at parity money that was borrowed at CAD=.7USD or so), although I suspect in most areas, particularly outside of Vancouver and Greater Toronto (and BosWash, Hawaii, Seattle, and California in the US), the nominal dollar has about the same purchasing power on both sides of the border.

  • Michelle Dion

    I am intrigued by the 

  • Michelle Dion

    Excuse me while I learn to use my own website…. DOH!

  • 5ReubenPrado

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