Overworked? Analyzing my workload

So I teach a lot. I teach an average of 254 students per semester without the help of teaching assistants (at the time this was written). I’m sure there are other others who have to do the same. In this blog post, I’m going to take a look at staffing at my institution.

While I’m not the only person who teaches such large student loads, such loads are not normal. In fact, my institution advertises an 18:1 student-to-faculty ratio. However, that number does not represent actual faculty teaching load. Even as a measure of class size there are problems. Looking at the Office of Institutional Research’s “Credit Hours Generated by Department” report, and dividing credit hours generated by faculty FTE, we get a students-per-semester average of about 88 students. This is a better estimate of how much “teaching work” a professor has per semester. This means the average faculty member teaches about 88 students across all their course load each semester (which is a bit larger than the 18:1 ratio).

Am I just an outlier?  Using the Credit Hours Report and the university’s annual factbook, it appears that some departments are more likely to have faculty teaching well above that 88 student average. Faculty in my department (anthropology & sociology) as well as those in business, math, and the other social sciences (especially psychology and criminal justice) generally teach more students per semester that those in other fields. So, my teaching load is impacted by department-level expectations from the administration, as well as staffing (which is an administrative decision).

Is my institution understaffed? Is that why I have to teach a lot of students? According to the above chart, we see that current faculty staffing is about where it was in 2002/2003 – before a massive boom in enrollment and hiring.  As I suggested earlier, some departments teach more undergraduates than others. So, this suggests that the problem is not necessarily university-wide staffing, but department-level staffing. ***Of course, this could be under the potentially false assumption that my institution was adequately staffed at 2002/2003 enrollment levels.

Compared to other institutions, we do not rely on as much adjunct labor due to our collective bargaining agreement. This is a good thing. However, this does mean that in the absence of a large number of adjuncts as well as fewer tenure track hires, existing faculty need to teach more. At the same time, we do employ adjuncts who are paid substantially less than tenure-line faculty for comparable work. Yet, it is a bit of a mystery why some departments get adjuncts and why others do not. It certainly is not based on student load – teaching or major count.

So maybe there’s a bias? I have found that (generally) departments with faculty that teach more students per term are more racially/ethnically diverse. This isn’t surprising given that the social sciences, math, and business are the departments with faculty that do a lot of heavy lifting – for general education as well as having large major counts. These are also fields that – according to the Survey of Earned Doctorates – are somewhat diverse (although this depends on the specialty/subfield). This is reflected in our students. Students of color represent 40% of my program’s majors. 27% of our majors are women of color. Are more diverse departments/programs understaffed due to some form of bias?

*** For the record, I see this as an outcome of an institutional problem rather than individual bias/shortsightedness. More on this in another blog post.

Wrapping up, I’m glad I’m on sabbatical this fall. I’ll miss my students, but I won’t miss all the course preparation and grading that I have to do.

Quick thoughts on elitism in academia

The #ESS2018 controversy is interesting given some recent suggestions I made to an ASA section, which included greater inclusion of graduate students from programs with fewer resource, and recognition of faculty at teaching-oriented institutions. There are a lot of issues with the advertisement for the Eastern Sociological Society’s annual meeting, with gender and institutional prestige standing out the most. However, Jeremy Freese points out in his tweet:

For me, what stands out, is the way in which the academic elite reproduces itself. This has been a hot topic in recent years – undoubtedly magnified by the adjunctification of the professorate. Furthermore, it’s not just a matter of prestige, it’s a matter of livelihoods and access to the resources to thrive in the profession. The fact of the matter is that resources lead to academic success. Take for instance the blog post earlier this year by Pamela Gay on conference travel and its resonance amongst other academics.

Coverage of the problem of institutional prestige includes articles in Chronicle of Higher Education as well, Science, and Slate. There are studies in a number of fields that top programs dominate hiring e.g. political science. Sarah Kendzior has called this Academia’s 1%. In fact, Jeremy Freese and Spencer Headworth have conducted research on the role of prestige in our field of sociology. Certainly, this is connected to gender. It is also clear that there is a publishing gap, and that men get more credit for their work (fyi… the ASA’s comment on the study).

What can people do about it? Andrea Voyer has a great blog post on it. The idea is make an effort to reach beyond your own network.


Assessment, Teaching & Disciplinary Writing

My colleagues and I recently published an article on our experiences creating a senior portfolio of writing samples, and assessment. In this piece, we acknowledge that faculty begrudgingly participate in assessment directives from administration. However, we also show how assessment – conducted as social scientific research – can provide valuable insights on student learning.

Most of us have probably heard someone say something along the lines of “we know best” while providing a series of anecdotes or talking about “common sense.” This, however, is not scientific. Such assumptions about teaching do not exemplify the critical thinking skills we supposedly teach our students. As sociologists, we regularly teach our students that common sense, might not be reliable or accurate. As such, applying sociological insights to teaching and learning can help us critically think about pedagogy.

With 215 portfolios, consisting of 1,028 student papers, collected and assessed we have solid evidence on the strengths and weaknesses of our students. An unsurprising finding in our research is that student writing could use a great deal of improvement. However, we also have evidence linking this to the inability to apply theory and write a decent literature review.  In other words, components of good sociological writing. This is something, I’ve touched upon in my blog.  Good writing, on some level, means disciplinary writing. It means writing for an audience e.g. fellow sociologists. This involves prose, as well as different styles of citation

Right now, my grant supported research is delving into this problem through the angles of community building and co-curricular activities. Put simply, will identifying as a sociologist – as a fellow social scientist – improve a student’s writing? Using surveys, focus groups, and existing assessment data, I am tackling this research question – as research.

This project is ongoing, and I’ll likely have a post on it once it’s completed. However, I’d like to end this post by saying, assessment doesn’t have it be assessment. I can be research as well. This is research that can inform one’s teaching, as well as curricular changes.  Importantly, it can do so by using evidence rather than anecdotes.

Talking about inequality

This fall, I’ll be teaching a social stratification course for the first time. As I prepare my course material, I’m reflecting on a discussion I had with a colleague recently about fellow scholars who get shocked by the unfamiliar “other” – whether it is poverty, another place, or culture.  For instance, an academic acquaintance – at an elite institution – once told me that he didn’t enjoy a particular city in the developing world because people were not friendly. Others have remarked on seeing real “poverty” for the first time, or finally seeing a non-Western culture.
Indeed, witnessing different kinds of inequality or a different culture for the first time can be shocking. Travelling and seeing different cultures is important and life changing. I think everyone should do this. However, the aforementioned scholars were not visiting failed states, refugee camps, or informal settlements (slums). In fact, there is arguably more poverty/inequality in the United States than the places they visited. Correspondingly, their choice of words made me feel incredibly uncomfortable. As a person of color, and a scholar who writes on globalization and inequality (and has worked overseas), I was put off by their choice of words.

One of the things I would like to do is try to help my students (and others) speak appropriately about their experiences with inequality. Language is a powerful thing. We use it to bring others into our experiences. Yet, how one shares their experiences also reveals one’s privilege, ignorance, Eurocentric and/or colonial world view.

Here are some suggestions I have for those who wish to speak about inequality:
  • Ask yourself why you were surprised. Have you even seen inequality or experienced different cultures in the United States? Did you do enough homework on the place you visited?
  • Know the difference between poverty and lack/accessibility. Are you actually observing a lack of basic needs in the community?
  • Share your experience, but don’t turn your experience into a spectacle. This turns people and their homes into the “Other.”
This is just a short list and not conclusive. It is also – by no means – an attempt to block people from sharing their experiences. However, it is important to remember that how one shares those experiences is important as well.

What is top-tier?

This blog post is a follow up to my previous defense of scholarly writing and a response to something I have been hearing from some colleagues at my institution– that publishing in top-tier journals is “impossible” for most faculty at my university. In this post, I want to first unpack this problematic assumption and then offer my thoughts on getting work published.

A bit of background: I happen to do interdisciplinary work. What I’ll be addressing might not work for all fields. Also, I am writing this while  at a regional teaching-oriented institution that has a 4/4 course load, where some publishing is required. Despite our faculty collective bargaining agreement explicitly stating quality matters more than quantity, many on my campus would argue that our contract does not offer guidance of how to evaluate quality over quantity. The result has been predatory publishing squeaking through the tenure process in the past, and more recently faculty getting denied due to ill-defined notions of quality.

Getting back to the question of publishing in particular venues – I think that the concern of my colleagues needs to be re-framed in the following ways. What constitutes a top-tier journal? Are we just talking about flagship journals of professional organizations? Are we talking about impact factors and other bibliometrics? Quantitatively, top-tier could mean anything within the first two quartiles of ranked journals in a field – which could account for several dozens of journals that are well cited and publish solid work. However, there are also journals in subfields that are also ranked. Web of Science and Google Scholar have categories beyond traditional/major disciplinary areas. Subjectively, it depends on your subfield. Is it a journal that you have cited in your own work? Is it a journal that publishes work you read regularly?

If I had to provide my own definition, I would say it’s simply a journal that publishes work that fellow scholars in the field recognize and respect.  Usually, this means there’s a correlation with citation counts, but it could be that it is affiliated with a professional association or be with an well known/established publisher. So yes, it’s a broad definition. However, you should always keep in mind what does or does not count in your department/institution as well as your field.

The idea that certain types of publication is “impossible” is dangerous. I think my colleagues mean well. We are a teaching oriented institution. However, this assumption discourages junior scholars from attempting to publish in highly ranked journals that can help grow a career. Indeed, one should always keep local tenure/promotion timelines in mind. However, I personally believe that scholars – especially young ones – should always aim for the best journal their work fits in. It increases the visibility of your hard work. Also it is work that is future proof if the journal is ever acquired by another published.

They key here is that the work is a fit for the journal. Prior to submitting your work to a journal, you need to do your homework. Do you cite articles in that journal? Or authors that have published in that journal? Do you engage in the literature that those who have written in that journal work in? Does the journal publish primarily qualitative or quantitative work?

Indeed, it is harder to get published in some journals than others. However, rejection can be valuable. The best advice I ever got in graduate school on publishing is to have a ranked list of where you would like to publish. If you get rejected from your first choice, you move down to the next one until you get an acceptance. As you move down the list, you will likely get feedback that can help you improve your manuscript and have it published in a well regarded venue.

Finally, for some good tips on publishing see Victoria Reyes’ article in InsideHigherEd


Reflections on Higher Ed during APAHM

So it is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM). Increasingly, APAHM and annual events such as the Lunar New Year provoke odd feelings for me. As an Asian-American living in rural Pennsylvania and working in higher education, it can be awkward at times. In Berks County, where I live, the Asian (one race) population is 1.6%. On my campus less than 1% of students identify as Asian. A few years ago, I was asked at a conference if it was difficult being a faculty of color in rural Pennsylvania. I cannot say it has been horrible, but it is certainly awkward.

Being Asian-American in higher education is complicated. Asians/Asian-Americans are considered “over-represented” in higher education relative to the general population. Even at my institution, 9.1% of faculty are Asian / Pacific Islander, while the Asian population in Pennsylvania is 3.6%. Yet, Asian-Americans are often forgotten as a minority group on and off campus.

Indeed, there is a rationale for the exclusion of Asian-Americans from the category of under-represented minority group(s). In 2015, there were 55,006 doctoral recipients in the United States. About 1/3 of degree recipients are temporary visa holders. Among the top countries origin for visa holders, China, India, South Korea, and Taiwan rank in the top 5 countries. Among U.S. citizens and permanent residents who received doctoral degrees, 8.7% were Asian-American – compared to 5.6% of the U.S. population. Of course, not all recipients of doctoral degrees work in universities. According to TIAA institute’s look at faculty diversity, 6.4% of all faculty are Asian-American and 2.1% of all faculty are immigrants (born and educated abroad). These two groups are also disproportionately at research institutions and not regional teaching-oriented ones such as my own.

However, this – and other – data tends to fuel the “Model Minority” myth and ignore the real experiences that people have. There are significant cultural and economic differences between different groups of Asian-Americans. The category of Asian includes people with heritage from about 4 dozen countries and many different ethnic groups. As such, the generalization of Asian-Americans as a single category is problematic. Moreover, income data that illustrates Asian-American success ignores the fact that Asian-Americans have the highest poverty rate in New York City, and there are high rates of poverty for many Southeast Asian groups. Asian-Americans are also faced with hate crimes and glass ceilings.

Just as the Asian-American category is problematic, Asian-American over-representation in higher education is not straightforward. It also does not mean an absence of racism, xenophobia, micro-aggressions, and various types of discrimination in the workplace. Take for example, in the life sciences 10.8% of recent PhDs are Asian-American versus the 4.3% in humanities fields. The resulting stereotype of Asians in STEM fields has consequences outside of those fields. For instance, there is a case of a political scientist profiled into teaching statistics. There are also concerns regarding the inclusion of Asian-American studies in curricula, and its consequences for tenure. The absence of the Chinese Exclusion Act and Japanese Internment from history lessons is revealing of the way in which Asian-Americans are still under-represented in higher education. At the same time, there is pressure for Asian-American scholars like myself – who do not work on Asia/Asian-Americans – to do so (stay tuned for a blog post on ‘mesearch’).

In conclusion, I cannot say it has been horrible, but it is certainly awkward.

In defense of scholarly writing

In this blog post, I would like to defend scholarly writing as well as the academic peer review process. I say this while also being very critical of the process and its inaccessibility. However, I don’t believe we should disregard its strengths.

There are two major critiques to academic writing and publishing. The first involves is the seemingly absurd process of publishing academic work. Submitting a journal manuscript for publication can mean a multi-month to multi-year commitment. Not only is time involved with revision as well as rejection, there are countless horror stories associated with the peer review process. In some fields, it is particularly bad. Editors face headaches as well.

However, if publishing was like the job market, my CV would likely be blank. The double-blind peer review is one of few places in which scholars from less recognized institutions are not judged based on affiliation and who they know. An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, for instance, found that single-blind review does have bias toward well-known researchers and institutions. However, they found double-blind review does reduce biased found in the review the process of the journal they examined.

I work at a regional teaching-oriented institution and have a PhD from a middling state institution. I am at a disadvantage not only due to these biases, but I have fewer resources that scholars and doctoral recipients from more well-known schools. Thanks to double blind review in my field, my work has generally received fair evaluations – which includes acceptances and rejections from prestigious journals in my subfield. Certainly, the peer review process can be improved. There are suggestions out there. However, I want to say that the process is not without merits.

The second critique is the inaccessibility of research. On Twitter, I have certainly shared plenty of articles that argue academics need to change the way they communicate their research. This problem is complicated, when academic knowledge is hidden behind expensive paywalls. Many on academic social media have discussed the problem of work that counts (or does not) in promotion and tenure processes and problems with the use of prestige/impact factor. As my colleagues have noted on Twitter, non-academic writing is not valued in tenure and promotion processes. This pushes scholars to put their work in the hands of publishers that are not committed to sharing knowledge.

However, I do not believe it is as simple as saying blogs or other public writing should count. For instance, the American Sociological Association, which I am a part of, released a report called “What Counts? Evaluating Public Communication in Tenure and Promotion.” The report essentially calls for context when evaluating public work (see: discussion in Inside Higher Ed).

For me, this context is engagement with the field. There is value in engaging with your peers, just as there is value in work that is aimed at non-academic audiences.  Academic writing – even at non-research schools – is useful in keeping one’s skills up-to-date. Indeed, it is a highly specialized form of communication. However, that is fundamentally what it means to have a PhD and do academic work.

Working Over The Summer

APSCUF (my faculty union) currently has a blog series that examines what professors do when class is not in session. This is a response to politicians characterizing our workload as being only 17 hours a week. Pennsylvania professors are not alone in sharing their “off contract” and summer activities. Faculty in Connecticut are keeping busy. So important are the summer months to our professional work, faculty at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst have written an advice piece for Inside Higher Ed on how to get the most out of the summer (and not burn out). I have my own blog post on summer writing written two years ago. For this post, I’d like to add to the discussion of – not just how much we work as faculty – but how important our so-called “off” time is.

Indeed, for me, as well as my colleagues, there is no “time off.” We work year round, but time for different activities may be allocated differently throughout the year. Summer is when I do much of my course preparation for the next academic year. This means reading new books on the areas I teach, revising syllabi, and updating data in my PowerPoints. This probably is not surprising to those outside of academia.

Summer is absolutely necessary for research and writing, which is not included the politicians’ 17 hour calculation. While we are not paid for the summer (unless we teach), this is when many of us conduct the research that is integral to our jobs as teachers and educators. At teaching oriented institutions, such as the PASSHE system, summer “free time” is even more important for continuing our scholarly growth. During the regular academic year, the time needed to manage four courses per term, grading, student advising, as well as committee and service work makes it extremely difficult to focus on research and writing.

For example, I study cities and globalization. Summer is my chance to travel to the places I study. In the past, I have visited universities in Ethiopia and Turkey. Last summer, I participated in a conference in Italy. While overseas, I am not only interacting with other scholars, but also investigating the processes that shape urban life. The only way this can be done without interfering with my teaching is to do it during the summer. This work is not just “research,” but it helps me in the classroom back in Pennsylvania. By conducting research, I am also preparing for my teaching. In gaining first hand knowledge and other experiences to share with my students, I can be a stronger teacher.

Summer is also the time in which I write up my research. In my field, this means an 8,000 to 10,000 word article that goes through many rounds of revision before submission to a scholarly journal for review by peers and other experts in the field. I believe that my strength as a teacher comes from my ongoing research and writing. Rob Jenkins, who writes for the Chronicle of Higher Education, has discussed how writing helps him in the classroom. Personally, I push myself to write for the same reasons we make our students write. It forces me to actively engage the literature and current trends in the field. This requires reading what others of written, thinking about my own research, and figuring out a way to make an effective argument. Furthermore, I submit myself to peer review for the same reasons why peer review is good for student writing as well. It forces me to clarify and effectively communicate ideas – valuable skills in the classroom.

As a sociologist, the American Sociological Association (ASA)’s annual meeting in August typically marks the end of summer. In the past four years, Kutztown has sent six undergraduate students to the ASA Honors program. This puts us in the company of elite research schools and selective liberal arts campuses – campuses that provide greater institutional support for research and professional development. Supporting student research and encouraging students to apply for such programs, requires active engagement in the discipline. My colleagues and I do this, because it is part of our professional identities – which extends beyond our specific university employment. This is tied to our passion for our field, research and desire to share the discipline with our students. In order to do this, we need to keep up with our research and spend our summers preparing for our annual conference.

In conclusion, our “off contract” time is valuable to both our professional identities, as well as our students. We go above and beyond because of we made the decision to devote our lives to the study and teaching of our disciplines. Claims by politicians that we only work 17 hours and have summers off demonstrates both a lack of understanding and respect for our profession.

What I Learned From Video Games

This post is not about video game scholarship. As a pop culture fan and sociologist, it is an area that maybe I will read up on when I have time. This post is about how video games made me a better student and later scholar (#academicgamer).

First, some facts about video games: According to the Entertainment Software Association, 155 million or 59% of Americans play some sort of video game (this includes a wide range of games from Call of Duty to Candy Crush).  In 2015, the average game player was 35 years old. This is up from 31 years old in 2013. The average age of game purchasers is 38. As an older millennial, I am right in this age bracket. I grew up on computer and video games. The original Nintendo and Mario were a major part of my childhood. I also played DOS games on the family’s old XT computer such as Jump (Janitor) Joe. Given the number of hours I have (and continue) to pour into video games, I would like to think that they had a positive impact on my life.

Here are some things I argue that I have gained from playing video games:

  1. Critical Thinking Skills: I certainly believe that video games developed my critical thinking skills. I grew up playing the Sierra On-Line text parser games. This required you to type in simple English what you wanted your character to do, such as “open door.” If the door was locked, you needed to figure out how to get into the building in a different manner. Even in current AAA games, problem solving and puzzles are an important part of gameplay. Last year, I finished Batman: Arkham Knight. An optional ‘quest’ is locating and solving the Riddler’s puzzles across Gotham City. These puzzles require the player to figure out which one of Batman’s weapons is most appropriate for activating a Rube Goldberg-eqsue contraption in order to obtain a trophy.
  2. Knowledge: How many of us played Oregon Trail? Or the great Carmen Sandiego series? In addition to explicitly educational games, other games weave history and literature into their plots the same way historical fiction does. More recently, the Assassin’s Creed series has done an amazing job mixing historical figures and places into their gameplay. Last year, I visited Florence, Italy. I could not help by remember all the times I navigated the main character Ezio up the cathedral and other landmarks.
  3. Inspiration: I’m an urbanist and SimCity undoubtedly shaped my interest in studying cities, as did the Civilization. I remember a graduate class discussion on Malthus and soil quality. I distinctly remember thinking about urban expansion in Civilization that day. One of the things I would like to work on in the future is video game simulations of urban environments.
  4. Entertainment: I think the most important thing I currently get from gaming is a chance to have fun. As a busy teacher, researcher, and new parent, video games a chance to relax and escape into other worlds such as Skyrim, or Thedas.

Here’s my PSN ID and current trophy count

Criticizing Return-on-Investment Approach to Degrees in PA

A version of this post appears in the APSCUF-KU May 2016 Newsletter.

Earlier this year, Pennsylvania’s System of Higher Education (PASSHE) issued a press release on a report entitled Degrees of Value. This report from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce will become part of the State System’s “Program Alignment Toolkit.” Looking at undergraduate degrees and income, the report essentially takes a return-on-investment (ROI) approach to college degrees. In PASSHE’s press release, it noted that: “While college-educated employees in any field tend to earn more than those with only a high school education, the college majors that lead to the highest earnings are in STEM, health and business. For example, a major in architecture and engineering, the highest-paying area of STEM, led to average earnings of $82,500 in Pennsylvania.”

The ROI approach to undergraduate programs is highly problematic and often criticized. Not only are there problems with its logic, it is typically used as an attack on the arts and humanities. APSCUF, the union representing faculty in the PASSHE system, has issued its statement on the report. However, I would like to offer my thoughts on the report. I do not find the results of the report particularly surprising. What is disconcerting is that the document lacks nuance even when using a ROI rationale and the report’s own data.

Take for example the state average for students who majored in the humanities and liberal arts. Median earnings for a humanities and liberal arts major between the ages of 12-64 is $45,300 statewide. However, a humanities and liberal arts major in the Southeast region of the state makes $49,900, which is more than a biology and life science major living in the Northwest region of the state ($46,400) and pretty close to a biology major in the Southwest region ($51,000).


Biology & Life Science Humanities & Liberal Arts
Central Region



Northeast Region



Northwest Region



Southeast Region



Southwest Region






Source: Degrees of Value, Figure 14, pages 23-24

The Degrees of Value report only briefly discusses geographic differences. However, it only does so within majors. This is because using income as a benchmark is complicated by significant regional differences in jobs, cost of living, and economic resources. Yet, the report’s focus is solely on income.

PASSHE’s acceptance of the report reinforces faculty fears of a vocational-drive by campus administrators and state leaders. Yet, the data within the report does not support a vocational-drive based on ROI. Students majoring in the social sciences make more than those in fields such as agriculture and natural resources, education, law & public policy, journalism, industrial arts, and social work.

Major Median earnings by undergraduate major group ages 21-64
Social Sciences $52,800
Agriculture & natural resources 50,800
Education 47,800
Law & public policy 46,700
Communications & journalism 43,400
Industrial arts, consumer services & recreation 42,100
Psychology & social work 42,100
Source: Degrees of Value, Figure 12, page 20

In addition to the report’s focus on STEM-H, business majors are a focus. Yet, social science majors in the Southeast Region do better than many business majors across the state.



Social Sciences (excluding psychology and social work)

Central Region



Northeast Region



Northwest Region



Southeast Region



Southwest Region






Source: Degrees of Value, Figure 14, pages 23-24

It is also important to note that nationally, the gap between humanities & social science, and professional & pre-professional fields closes significantly over the course of a worker’s career.

Source: Chronicle of Higher Education, AAUP.

In conclusion, the equating of undergraduate degree with income is simplistic. It ignores economic geography, labor market dimensions, as well less quantifiable benefits such as career satisfaction, community service, and job security.