Archive for April, 2014

Thurgood Marshall and the continuing Civil Rights Movement



I had the privilege of being a participant in a panel on race and same-sex marriage at the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas State University in Houston.  I don’t know why, but I’ve always loved doing stuff at historically black colleges and universities. Philosophically, I’m often ambivalent about the mission of such programs, yet I’ve done things at HBCUs, and it is always thrilling and inspiring. I worked with Tennessee State and Meharry Medical College for several years on projects about racial disparities in health outcomes, and we did many outreach programs to try to stimulate research at HBCUs. I was always humbled by the resilience and commitment of faculty members at HBCUs, and of the seriousness of their students. Sarah Guidry,  Executive Director of the Earl Carl Institute for Legal and Social Policy, did a magnificent job of assembling a diverse panel on issues related to legal, racial, and religious perspectives on same sex marriage. Her own stoic presence sometimes was punctuated by her unique story, which she only interjected briefly, yet to great effect.

I got to meet the guy who gave us legal blow jobs and cunnilingus and buttsex! Among the distinguished panel was Mitchell Katine, who argued Lawrence v Texas to the Supreme Court. His presentation noted how race played such a significant role in the persecution of John Lawrence and Tyron Garner, when they were arrested for having consensual sex in 1998. If Garner would have been white, it is unlikely that the cops would have arrested them on sodomy charges. Katine was just a young pup lawyer when he first took the case, and yet there it stands. Lawrence v Texas overturned the noxious Bowers v Hardwick, and it did so quite strongly. Next up, Colin Starger presented why I could never be a lawyer, outlining how Supreme Court cases are won and the flow of judicial decisionmaking across the last century. I asked something like “why don’t people argue X” and he said, “that’s not exactly stupid (which means it was stupid), but it seems to go against a century or so of precedent.”  The keynote was a young guy who was part of the team arguing De Leon v Perry, the Texas marriage case bubbling up through the courts. Other speakers honed in on other various issues, and many quite engaged and enthusiastic law school students, faculty, and community members prodded everyone about their perspectives, opinions, findings and expectations.

What really struck me was that some people are willing to engage in intellectual discourse for its own sake. None of us were paid. We were all just happy to be there, supporting an important law school with strong ties to the civil rights community.

In the meantime, conservative Christianists at Rice and Baylor were hosting expensive high profile conferences featuring people like Ernest Istook…..

Why Regional Associations Matter

I feel the Pulse of the Populace, I can feel it!

I’m mostly into National connections, or even Canadians….

Getting back from the SSS meetings in Charlotte reminded me of some of the finer points about how to build a career in academic sociology. Many people pooh-pah regional meetings–they are too good to present papers in sessions filled with junior scholars from minor institutions, or people from HBCU’s, or graduate students. Indeed, junior faculty and even graduate students from upper tier universities are increasingly avoiding affiliating with regional associations.  They are fucking themselves.

I want to start with the wanna be top. If you think you are a hotshit assistant or associate professor, then you should be producing several publishable and presentable papers every year. So, you should want to give yourself the opportunity to hash through your paper before you submit it for publication. Don’t you think? Beyond that, anyone with a tenured or tenure tracked job in a top tier PHD granting institution has a duty to support sociological associations that support research and interaction. If for no other reason than pedagogy.

Which brings us to the issue of students. I’ve heard a few  prominent sociologists diss regional associations, and they are wrong. They are clueless. They don’t exist in the real world. If you aren’t one of the anointed ones, you need ties to people who might get you jobs, that’s even true if you are a tenured professor. Far more for people looking for jobs. Opposition to regional associations seems most solid among people who believe that they have it made, that they are going to get jobs at top tier universities (or keep the ones they managed to get). But what if you aren’t the top person in your top tier PhD program? How many top tier jobs are there? If you are the fifth best student at Michigan, what can y0u expect….and what if you’re the 12th best? Many really strong students at top programs—people with very solid publication records from the gun—are stuck in the middle. Top places aren’t going to hire them because they are beaten by their peers on whatever, and lower tier places are scared that they won’t accept a job or won’t be happy.

It’s a myth that regional associations are only helpful for the bottom tier of PhD students. In fact, regional associations are often a key broker of employable status for many PhD students no matter the status of their PhD program. Insofar as programs avoid regional associations, their PhD products may wind up unemployable in the academic market. If you have any hope for targeting your employment to a region, joining a regional association and participating as a graduate student will enhance your chances of getting a job in the geographic area you want.

More directly, regional associations put you in contact with people in your field and geographic area. The meetings tend to promote connections across areas of study much more than do the larger national meetings or any national specialty meetings. Hence, your ties are crosscutting fields of study, in a way that they often are not. And your job prospects are not going to be in your own pet area…..

Regionalism helps if you are starting out, and if you’re established. You’re a lazy selfish loser if you avoid regional associations.


Just a thought…


Walt Gove, Ken Land, Charlotte, and the SSS

Walter R. Gove in his "native" Alaska as captured by Alfred Darnell.

Walter R. Gove in his “native” Alaska as captured by Alfred Darnell.

Another spring, another Southern Sociological Society meetings. This time in Charlotte, an off reservation site. This year I was busy, since both my former colleague Walt Gove and my old mentor Ken Land were receiving the highest award in the society, induction into the SSS Roll of Honor. It was a not entirely comforting experience. I learned in this process that many of the “younger” scholars are not very aware of or impressed by serious academic talent. It was disturbing to see throngs of participants and especially students attending panels with half-baked papers from dissertations and avoiding being educated about the careers of two of the most productive scholars of the latter half of the twentieth century. The arrogant indifference to excellence also seemed to permeate some quarters of the leadership of the association, and I find that troubling. But, fuck those people, they’re losers.

What matters is that we had great panels for both Walt and Ken. I was really glad that  Alfred Darnell could come down for Walt’s award, and Mike Hughes performed yeoman’s work on the organization of his panel, and award, and for other intangibles. Well, I guess I should say “tangibles.” You see, what was most disturbing about this last week, perhaps for me, was the near complete abandonment of  Walt Gove by Vanderbilt. Only Jay Turner, who never overlapped with Walt at Vanderbilt, came to Walt’s session or reception, and  the department only offered a token contribution to pay for the reception. They were too busy having a party for their 80th anniversary. I wasn’t aware that 80th anniversaries were that big of a deal, and if they were, I would think they would have flown out Walt Gove, who spent his entire 35 year career at Vanderbilt and put them on the map. Walt is the reason why Vanderbilt had high empirical rankings, far exceeding the overall prestige of the program. Gove published more articles in ASR, AJS, and Social Forces (before it sucked) than anyone from the late 1960s until 2000.. More than Anyone.  Both Mike Hughes and I tried to get Vanderbilt to do the right thing and properly honor Walt, but that didn’t work. I won’t go into detail, but let me just say that anyone who tells me that Vanderbilt can’t afford a paltry $2k for a reception is a liar, and if you think for one second that I believe you then you are the stupid one. I COULD HAVE FOUND THAT MONEY AT SIU WITHOUT EVEN ASKING MY DEAN.  We are the brokest of the broke and the poorest of the poor in the PhD granting university department, and if Lew Hendrix was getting an award, we’d be having a party. Thankfully, Walt has lots of friends, colleagues, and students who contributed to making sure we could have a nice reception, and thanks to people like Sue Hinze, Jim Wilson, Peter Wood, Peggy Thoits, Shirley Laska, Bob Crutchfield, Deb Umberson,  Karen Campbell, Mike Hughes, Pam Hull, Gabrielle Chapman, and Candi Batton (and maybe some others I’ve missed), we were able to have a reception—though it was scheduled at the same time as Ken Land’s…..

In contrast to the lack of support for scholarly acclaim at Vanderbilt, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva at Duke did the right thing for Ken Land, as he deserved. Eduardo popped for the full open bar bash, he encouraged his faculty to attend, Ken was nominated by his senior colleague, Lynne Smith Lovin, in collaboration with his long-time colleague and dean Angela O’Rand (who also attended all functions for Ken). Several people from Duke came only to show support for Ken. Eduardo led the Ken Roast, which is now a Duke Tradition. Duke did everything right, and it was great to see many of my former professors and fellow students, as well as the next generation of Duke.

I think the best part of my trip to Charlotte (other than the 65 mile bike ride with my old teammate Ben Miller) was standing next to Ida Harper Simpson at Ken’s Roast, and then having her sneak back into Walt’s reception (they were “unfortunately” scheduled at the same time, remember). It meant a lot to Walt for someone like Ida to ditch her own department’s reception and come over to pay homage. Lynne did the same, I know. And of course, Ken and Walt congratulated each other on their well-deserved accolades.