• Professor Wants to Drop “Rigor” in Engineering Education. Why? Because It “Reinforces White Male Heterosexual Privilege”

    Purdue professor, Donna Riley, has a great way to make the engineering profession more inclusive.

    No, my friend, it is not to recruit more widely and offer supplementary courses to bring everyone up-to-speed.

    No, it is not to offer mentoring to underrepresented groups.

    No, siree. (Ooops, sorry for that patriarchal phrase.)

    The leader of Purdue University’s School of Engineering Education recently declared that academic “rigor” reinforces “white male heterosexual privilege.”

    Defining rigor as “the aspirational quality academics apply to disciplinary standards of quality,” Riley asserts that “rigor is used to maintain disciplinary boundaries, with exclusionary implications for marginalized groups and marginalized ways of knowing.”

    “One of rigor’s purposes is, to put it bluntly, a thinly veiled assertion of white male (hetero)sexuality,” she writes, explaining that rigor “has a historical lineage of being about hardness, stiffness, and erectness; its sexual connotations—and links to masculinity in particular—are undeniable.”

    Hence, Riley remarks that “My visceral reaction in many conversations where I have seen rigor asserted has been to tell parties involved (regardless of gender) to whip them out and measure them already.”  –Donna Riley, Purdue Prof. of Engineering Education, quoted in Campus Reform (link here)

     

    If this kind of academic malpractice were rare, it wouldn’t be worth mocking.

    If this response to academic failure were rare, it wouldn’t be worth mentioning.

    In fact, these specious arguments, seemingly in favor of marginalized groups, are commonplace on campus. They need to be rebutted. They have also gained favor on among progressive politicians. Eric Holder’s Department of Justice made police and fire departments lower their standards–and pass students who had failed their competency tests–not because the tests were biased (they were not), not because the tests were irrelevant to performance (they were directly relevant), but simply because, in Holder’s opinion, too many of his preferred groups did not pass.

    Turning to the Purdue Engineering professor . . .

    1. Prof. Riley is not just any professor. She’s the head of the entire school of engineering education at a major research university, known for its science, math, and engineering.
    2. Notice the patronizing argument. The clear implication of Riley’s position is that “marginalized groups” cannot actually do difficult, mathematical work. Even if that were true, the right response wouldn’t be to lower standards but to remedy the underlying problem.
    3. Notice the ad hoc inclusion of different groups, mainly because they are part of Prof. Riley’s putative coalition. Is there any evidence that gays cannot perform engineering courses at the same level as non-gay students? I haven’t heard of any. Same for women. If they are underrepresented, then try and recruit them. If any other group is having problems–as a group–then figure out why and solve the problem. Don’t say, “Rigor is just too demanding for, say, brain surgeons.”
      • Btw, I just clicked on Purdue’s School of Engineering Education and the first picture is of a female student being named a prestigious Marshall School, a major national competition across all fields.
    4. “Whip them out and measure them already.” Is this Blazing Saddles or an academic journal? Moreover, ask yourself whether this phrase is itself a form of invidious sexism and even harassment. Ask yourself what would happen if any male professor made the same statement in print about women’s breasts? The over/under on that professor’s severe punishment and possible firing is 3 seconds.
    5. However laudable your aims, you marginalize your own position when your argue in favor of dangerously lowering standards. Moreover, you patronize the “marginalized” and offer ideological nostrums instead of real solutions.
    6. Finally, let’s assume that Purdue’s Engineering School does exactly what you say. How would potential employers cope? They would hire from other schools or demand real proof of competence beyond your degree. If every engineering school followed your silly advice, then employers would institute their own tests for competence and other schools would see a huge opportunity to enter the field and offer rigorous training.

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, October 25

    Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
    Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ There are three stories today about Russia’s involvement in US politics, and all three are bad for the Democrats

    How big the stories become–how serious the resulting scandals–depends on additional investigation and investigative reporting.

     Story #1: That scandalous, largely-discredited “Russian Dossier,” which led to the federal investigations of the Trump Campaign, was financed by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary’s Campaign 

    The Washington Post broke the story (link here) They report that the Clinton campaign, using a Washington lawyer as a cutout, retained Fusion GPS to do the dirty work. Fusion GPS has fought strenuously to prevent any disclosure of who paid them and invoked their 5th amendment privilege against self-incrimination to avoid testifying before Congress.

    The Clinton campaign, like others, used a lawyer to hire these contractors so their communications would be protected by attorney-client privilege.

    The Clinton people have never acknowledged a connection to Fusion GPS or the dossier.

     Story #2: Mueller’s Russia Probe turns toward key Democratic insiders

    Paul Manafort is also a major target but, according to reports, this top Republican operative worked closely with the Podesta Group, closely aligned with the Clintons.

    The news is here:

    A thus-far-reliable source who used to be involved with Clinton allies John and Tony Podesta told Tucker Carlson that press reports appearing to implicate President Trump in Russian collusion are exaggerated.

    The source, who Carlson said he would not yet name, said he worked for the brothers’ Podesta Group and was privy to some information from Robert Mueller’s special investigation.

    While media reports describe former “Black, Manafort & Stone” principal Paul Manafort as Trump’s main tie to the investigation, the source said it is Manafort’s role as a liaison between Russia and the Podesta Group that is drawing the scrutiny.

    The “vehicle” Manafort worked for was what Carlson called a “sham” company with a headquarters listed in Belgium but whose contact information was linked to Kiev, the Ukrainian capital. –Fox News

    Comment: National news media have not reported this news.

    Story #3: Russian bribery, money-laundering, speaker fees to Bill Clinton, and over $100 million to the Clinton Foundation while Hillary was Sec. of State and the Russians were federal approval to buy US uranium assets 

    Actually House Republicans announced two new investigations (link here):

    In the first of two back-to-back announcements, the top Republicans on the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees said they would formally examine the Obama Justice Department’s investigation of Mrs. Clinton’s emails. Less than an hour later, Republicans from the Intelligence and Oversight Committees said they were opening a separate inquiry into the administration’s approval of a 2010 agreement that left a Russian-backed company in control of much of the United States’ uranium. –New York Times

    Comment: The NYT story downplays the significance and suggests it is all simply partisan squabbling about a now-departed administration.

    I think they underestimate the possible ramifications of both investigations.

    The Uranium One deal is a particularly thorny issue for the Clintons and the Obama Administration because Obama’s FBI and DOJ knew of Russian bribery and other criminal activity before the deal was approved. Congress was not informed, as it should have been. Their objections might have blocked the deal. The public was kept completely in the dark. Mueller was head of the FBI at this time. One of the Russians reportedly involved in this illegal activity was given a US visa twice during this period by Hillary’s State Department. One major question is whether Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has recused himself from these Russia issues, will appoint a Special Counsel to investigate this and perhaps the Clinton emails, where then FBI-director Comey wrote a memo clearing Hillary long before key witnesses had been interviewed.

    The most important implication: The FBI (under Mueller) looks to be deeply compromised.

    Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) will not run for re-election. He and Sen. Bob Corker (D-TN), who is also retiring, lacerated Pres. Trump in speeches, interviews, and social media. Their rebukes are reported here (Reuters)

    Flake’s attack was on Trump’s conduct and dishonesty. Flake’s actual voting record is very supportive of Trump legislation.

    Flake, who has very high disapproval numbers in his home state, was likely to lose his primary contest.

    The local Arizona paper features this headline: Flake’s retirement opens floodgates to potential GOP candidates (Tucson.com)

    All those candidates are pro-Trump, but some are from more traditional elements of the party, others from the Bannon wing.

    The paper also notes that a divisive primary and an open seat gives the Democrats a chance to win for the first time in years.

    China’s Xi reveals Communist Party leadership, buttresses his own position and refuses to name a successor (BBC)

    All seven members of the Party’s Standing Committee were in their 60s. Rising stars in their 50s were not included.

    Comment: The absence of an heir-apparent, Xi’s cult of personality, and his name’s inclusion in the party constitution all raise speculation he might eventually seek a third-term, which had been ruled out after Mao’s death.

    Today in campus lunacy: Univ of Illinois education prof attacks difficult mathematics courses as evidence of white privilege (Campus Reform)

    “On many levels, mathematics itself operates as Whiteness. Who gets credit for doing and developing mathematics, who is capable in mathematics, and who is seen as part of the mathematical community is generally viewed as White,” [Prof. Rochelle] Gutiérrez argued [in a book aimed at K-12 math teachers].

    Truly, you cannot make this up. Here’s what the professor writes:

    If one is not viewed as mathematical, there will always be a sense of inferiority that can be summoned,” she says, adding that there are so many minorities who “have experienced microaggressions from participating in math classrooms… [where people are] judged by whether they can reason abstractly.”

    To fight this, Gutiérrez encourages aspiring math teachers to develop a sense of “political conocimiento,” a Spanish phrase for “political knowledge for teaching.”

    Comment #1: Please note, Prof. Gutiérrez thinks it is rank racism to judge people in a math class on whether they can reason abstractly. In fact, math is abstract reasoning.

    Comment #2: Why, Professor, does all this whiteness and white privilege in math not seem to hold back Asians and Asian-Americans in US math classes?  This is not a trivial issue or mere debating point. Note, too, that many of the Asian-American students come from lower-income families. Hmmmm.

    Comment #3: Gutiérrez is a professor of education, where this kind of political blather, masquerading as scholarship, is commonplace. Poor scholarship and political propaganda are major problems in Ed Schools across the country. So is the soft curriculum, which leads to adverse selection (namely, compared to other students, those who major in education consistently have some of the lowest SATs and lowest GPAs outside their majors).

    I remember all the justified complaints by feminists when a Barbie doll said, “Math is hard.” They said, rightly, that the comments were demeaning to women and sending the wrong message to girls. Sorry to see Prof. Gutiérrez sending the same message to minorities and dressing up in the costume of social justice.

     

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Hat Tip to

    ◆ Tom Elia for the math-is-whiteness story

     

  • Juan Cole, U. Michigan’s infamous Middle East specialist, strikes again

    Prof. Cole, whose regional specialty overlaps with terrorism, ought to know a thing or two about the subject.

    Ought to.

    But doesn’t.

    His latest op-ed, written for The Nation (a small but influential left-wing publication) is entitled:

    Ariana Grande Understands Counterterrorism Better Than Jim Mattis

    Secretary of Defense Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis said in an interview on Sunday that US strategy toward ISIL has moved from attrition to annihilation. Since 2014, he said, the United States has been making it difficult for them to stay in one place, disrupting them and chasing them out of their strongholds (through airstrikes). Now, he said, the new strategy is to surround them and kill them all, to prevent the foreign fighters from returning home to foment more terrorism. –Juan Cole in The Nation

    The problem with that strategy, says Cole, is that ISIL/ISIS seeks such “polarization.” This leads the hyperbolic Cole to metaphoric self-immolation:

    The strategy of annihilation is sort of like fighting forest fires with gasoline hoses. –Juan Cole

    Cole concludes by strongly endorsing Ariana Grande’s tweet, which favors  “compassion, kindness, love, strength and oneness,” which are “the exact opposite of the heinous intentions” of the Manchester terror bombers.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Comments:

    • Ariana Grande’s compassion is wonderful. So is her bravery in returning to Manchester.
    • There are serious debates among counter-terrorism specialists about the right mix of lethal force and incentives, the right balance between restrained rules of engagement and permissive ones
    • But thinking that holding hands in a circle around Mosul, putting “COEXIST” bumper stickers on our drones, and singing “All we are saying is give peace a chance” is not a winning strategy.

    If you think so, then drive through any of these extremist Muslim areas with a bumper sticker that includes a Star of David and a Cross. Drive around Europe or the US with that sticker, no problem. Drive around Saudi Arabia or Iran,no head.

    And slinging mud at Gen. Mattis is disgusting. And it demeans Cole, not Mattis, to say the SecDef knows less about strategy than a pop singer in her early 20s.

    Cole has earned a reputation for vitriolic criticism of the United States and even more vitriolic hatred of Israel. He is a poster child for everything that is wrong with Middle Eastern studies in US universities.

    His latest op-ed burnishes that well-earned reputation.

     

  • How to reduce the number of women physicists in one easy lesson

    Feminist researcher invents ‘intersectional quantum physics’ to fight ‘oppression’ of Newton (College Fix)

    The author, Whitney Stark, does her “physics” at The Institute for LGBT Studies at the University of Arizona.

    You probably think of Arizona’s Institute for LGBT Studies primarily as a place where so many great discoveries in modern physics are made.

    That’s certainly true–Nobel laureates clutter the hallways–but the Institute does not limit itself to breakthroughs in the physical sciences.

    They go much further, as Prof. Stark’s work shows.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Stark’s “Assembled Bodies: Reconfiguring Quantum Identities,” is being published by Duke University Press’s Minnesota Review (proving a powerful quantum point right there, you can be in Durham, Tuscon, and Minneapolis at the same time).

    Stark identifies Newtonian physics as one of the main culprits behind oppression. “Newtonian physics,” she writes, has “separated beings” based on their “binary and absolute differences.”

    “This structural thinking of individualized separatism with binary and absolute differences as the basis for how the universe works is embedded in many structures of classification,” according to Stark.

    These structures of classification, such as male/female, or living/non-living, are “hierarchical and exploitative” and are thusly “part of the apparatus that enables oppression.” –College Fix

    It’s hard to take human knowledge back, in one swoop, to misunderstandings that Newton cleared up in the mid-1600s, but, hey, Whitney Stark, has done it.

    If she has seen less here, it is because she refuses to stand on the shoulders of giants. Worse, she is determined to smash their clavicles.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    But Prof. Stark has done more than subtract from the sum of human knowledge.

    She has cut to the quick of modern oppression and so helped train a new generation of physicists. It is a field that needs more women, and Prof. Stark is certainly doing her part.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Extensions of this powerful intellectual breakthrough should be easy enough and lead to many more publications.

    After all, the entire field of computer programming is currently built on zeroes and ones.

    Computer scientists are currently working to create true quantum computing that goes beyond 0 and 1.

    But that does not excuse the current binary coding from its cloak of domination and oppression.

    Hey, binary is built right into the name. Need I say more?

    Understanding that should ease the tsunami of female programmers currently swamping Silicon Valley, Austin, and Seattle.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    What we have here, as Strother Martin famously said in Cool Hand Luke,  is worse than a “failure {pause} to communicate.”

    It is a failure {pause} to think clearly, whatever pig’s blanket of obscurantism you wrap it in.

    Prof. Stark takes a soupçon of the complexity and indeterminacy introduced by modern quantum physics and stirs it into the humanities, which are already drowning in it.

    Then, she waves a magic wand and makes up a mechanism connecting abstract mathematics from the mid-1600s to something she doesn’t like to today.

    Voilà!

    That a peer-reviewed journal at a major university published this is truly wondrous to behold.

    Well done, Whitney. 

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    BONUS for extra fun.

    Here is the actual abstract of the article. I swear it is real. (Link here.)

    In this semimanifesto, I approach how understandings of quantum physics and cyborgian bodies can (or always already do) ally with feminist anti-oppression practices long in use. The idea of the body (whether biological, social, or of work) is not stagnant, and new materialist feminisms help to recognize how multiple phenomena work together to behave in what can become legible at any given moment as a body. By utilizing the materiality of conceptions about connectivity often thought to be merely theoretical, by taking a critical look at the noncentralized and multiple movements of quantum physics, and by dehierarchizing the necessity of linear bodies through time, it becomes possible to reconfigure structures of value, longevity, and subjectivity in ways explicitly aligned with anti-oppression practices and identity politics. Combining intersectionality and quantum physics can provide for differing perspectives on organizing practices long used by marginalized people, for enabling apparatuses that allow for new possibilities of safer spaces, and for practices of accountability. –Whitney Stark, “Assembled Bodies: Reconfiguring Quantum Identities” in the Minnesota Review

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Hat tip to Tom Elia for finding this gem and to

    Toni Airaksinen for writing the piece in The College Fix

    May the quantum force be with you.