The Sixth Conversation Thread

What can I say? It doesn't fit above, put it here. Also the location of board rules/info.
User avatar
elemtilas
runic
runic
Posts: 2934
Joined: 22 Nov 2014 04:48

Re: The Sixth Conversation Thread

Post by elemtilas »

I'm okay with US states and Canadian provinces and even most Australian states. English counties, I know quite a few names, but am a little fuzzier on location. I can pinpoint Cornwall and Devon, Kent and Norfolk. The last on account of the nine days wonder. I also know they manked around with the county borders in 1974.

For elsewhere, country level names I could get the vast majority right, though central Asia is a little fuzzy. Coastlines, landmass shapes, major rivers & mountains are all no problem. Many tectonic boundaries and glacial maximums as well.
Khemehekis
runic
runic
Posts: 2815
Joined: 14 Aug 2010 09:36
Location: California über alles

Re: The Sixth Conversation Thread

Post by Khemehekis »

Salmoneus wrote: 18 May 2021 13:46 So "Cleveland", "Arkansas", "Austin" and "North Dakota" are among the most commonly used words in English (NB why is 'north dakota' even considered a word here?), and yet "Edinburgh" (a massive deal in the UK not only because it's a big and old city, but because it's a synecdoche for Scotland), "Lagos" (one of the world's biggest cxties and cultural capital of English-speaking west africa - Nigeria alone has over 200 million inhabitants, half of whom speak English!) and even "Delhi" (again, more than 100m English speakers, not to mention capital of one of the world's most important countries) aren't?

Hell, the list doesn't include "Westminster". So it's pretty automatically invalid! Sure, the UK is smaller than the US, but "Westminster" is a constant feature of all political coverage here - being both a physical place where lots of important things happen and famous things are located, and a metonymy for England, the government, and the political process and culture. I can promise you, it's mentioned in UK media way more than six times more than US media mentions Arkansas...
I'll ask my friend about the US-centrism of the list.

Looking over the latest version of the full 30,000-word list (the one when the corpus size reached 175m words), "London" is #1,360, "Oxford" is #4,361, "Cambridge" is #5,111, "Devon" is #7,585, "Edinburgh" is #8,959, "Manchester" is #6,122, "Liverpool" is #8,341, "Newcastle" is #8,848, "Newport" is #9,821, and "Wimbledon" is #11,582. There may be some other British cities in the top 10,000 that I've forgotten about or neglected to look for.

And as for "Arkansas", I mainly hear it mentioned as the home of former president Bill Clinton. I don't talk about it much myself! The only other Arkansan thing I can think of Wal-mart, which is headquartered in Bentonville, AR.

One interesting thing is that "Hamas", "Hezbollah", and "Benghazi" all make the top 10,000 words, despite not being Anglophone. Although American conservatives have a conspiracy theory that "Hitlery" Clinton had a journalist murdered in Benghazi, which to this day they won't stop harping on, so maybe it's not so surprising that a heavily-American corpus would have that word in the top 10,000. The 30,000-word list is full of Middle Eastern place names like "Misrata" and "Raqqa".

"Seoul" is #6,416 and "Pyongyang" is #7,847, while "Xinjiang" comes in at #17,097 and "Xinhua" at #20,939.
Even leaving geography aside, there's some weird inclusions and omissions. You have "funk" and "punk", and, somehow, "span", and yet you don't have, say, "pun", or "punt"/"punter"? How often do Americans discuss spans!?
Looking at COCA (an exclusively American corpus of 1 billion words of text), "span" (noun) is word #5,823 and "span" (verb) is #6,446. (COCA separates the parts of speech of its words, get used to it.) A look at the search for "span" at https://www.english-corpora.org/coca/ shows that people talk about life spans, time spans, wing spans, and attention spans, so it's not really surprising that the word comes up that high.

A check with COCA shows that "punk" is word #5,876, while "pun" (noun) is #11,143, "pun" is #32,467, "punt" (noun) is #10,955, "punt" (verb) is #18,269, and "punter" is #19,191.

In the 175m list for my friend's corpus, by comparison, "pun" is #6,766.

An interesting check would be the words for religions. "Christian", "Catholic", "Jewish", "Jew", "Muslim", "Islamic", "Islam", "cult", and "atheist" make the top 5,000, while "Protestant", "Anglican", "Episcopalian", "Orthodox", "Mormon", "Buddhist", "Hindu", "Sikh", "Baha'i", "Scientologist", "Pagan", "Wiccan", "Rastafarian", "Satanist", "deist", and "agnostic" do not.
There are also some 'words' that are just grammatical forms of other words - "rang", for instance. If you're going to do that, where are all the -ed and -s words.
The impression I got from reading the whole list was that anything that would be a separate dictionary entry was counted as a word, so "stole" and "stolen" are separate entries, for instance, while "steal", "steals", and "stealing" are lumped together. Also notice how the list has contractions like "don't" and "it's". Also "color" and "colour", "analyze" and "analyse", etc. appear to be lumped together, while on the other hand "railroad" (#4,697) and "railway" (#7,341) are separate.
Last edited by Khemehekis on 19 May 2021 07:46, edited 1 time in total.
♂♥♂♀

Squirrels chase koi . . . chase squirrels

My Kankonian-English dictionary: 72,500 words and counting

31,416: The number of the conlanging beast!
Khemehekis
runic
runic
Posts: 2815
Joined: 14 Aug 2010 09:36
Location: California über alles

Re: The Sixth Conversation Thread

Post by Khemehekis »

elemtilas wrote: 18 May 2021 16:58
Khemehekis wrote: 18 May 2021 05:24 And *I* use "California" a lot in my speech! Certainly it's among the top 5,000 words!
hA! Landaucentrism -- it's the gerrymandering of the 21st century!
[:D]

Also, I just noticed that "curry", a food Brits and Indians eat more than Americans, made the top 5,000, while the North American "taco" did not. (Checking the 30,000-word list, "taco" just misses the top 5,000, coming in at #5,131.) And the all-American "cheeseburger" doesn't even show up until word #9,738!

EDIT: Looking up "North Dakota" in my copy of the 175m list, it only comes in at #7,357 -- one spot below "tractor". I'm not sure how it suddenly climbed into the top 5,000.
♂♥♂♀

Squirrels chase koi . . . chase squirrels

My Kankonian-English dictionary: 72,500 words and counting

31,416: The number of the conlanging beast!
Khemehekis
runic
runic
Posts: 2815
Joined: 14 Aug 2010 09:36
Location: California über alles

Re: The Sixth Conversation Thread

Post by Khemehekis »

Today I got a response from my friend with the corpus in my email box. Sharing it with all of you.
James,

Thanks for writing me about my corpus-in-progress. Yes, there is an admitted American bias. CNN and NPR, the two media outlets from which I have millions of words of transcripts, are both American, although the latter has less of an American bias than the former. I have over 11m words of blogs in my corpus, including some political blogs, but all of the political blogs focus on American politics, from the Bush-43 years to the Biden years. Do you or the people at the CBB have any recommendations for good blogs on British politics - blogs where 'Westminster' would pop up a lot? The blog subcorpus still has a lot of growing to do. Likewise, the TV transcripts I could find were mostly for American shows (although I do have some Canadian shows like Degrassi: The Next Generation and Kids in the Hall). If anyone knows where I can find online transcripts of Yes, Prime Minister, let me know!

The news subcorpus has some Australian, New Zealand and Indian news sites sampled; as for British news, I have copied a few Guardian articles, but I have a whole slew of articles from the Daily Mail (!), which talks about Buckingham Palace and Queen Elizabeth and Harry more than May, Johnson and Corbyn, and has a heavy focus on celebs, British and not, so it's understandable that 'Westminster' would not be among the top 5000 words on my list.

The lyrics subcorpus includes many British artists, like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Dave Clark Five, the Who, the Sex Pistols, Sir Elton John, Rod Stewart, Depeche Mode, the Eurhythmics, Modern English, the Human League and the Sundays. I'm currently doing '90s music, so expect lots of Britpop to be added to IGCE soon! And of course, artists like Coldplay, Muse, James Blunt, Adele, Ed Sheeran, James Bay, Duffy, Calvin Harris and George Ezra will be added in the future - once I get to artists who made it big in the new millennium! Ofc these artists don't sing all that much about U.K. politics, even if some British punk bands (like the Pistols) were known for bashing the monarchy and/or Margaret Thatcher and John Major!

As for 'Austin', when I ran a Concordance on it, I discovered something interesting. Randomly reducing my concordance to a 200-line sample, only 112 out of 200 (56%) of tokens for 'Austin' referred to the city in Texas. The rest were names, such as 'Austin Powers' or 'Steve Austin'. If only 56% of the 2806 tokens for 'Austin' are the place name, that would be ~1570 tokens that are "words" rather than "proper names", which would take it out of the running for the top 5000. (The cut-off for top 5000, at 181m words, is the word 'modest', which occurs 2060 times.) With 'Cleveland' this is less pronounced than 'Austin', but still there (lots of Family Guy transcripts in IGCE). I'll just have to be sure to edit these when I make my 190m list. If it weren't for editing words that appeared as proper names a lot, 'trump' would no doubt be in the top 5000!

'Railroad' occurs 2236 times at 181m tokens. A quick concordance check shows that almost a quarter of these are from song lyrics. Yes, people in the 19th and early 20th century really did sing about trains a lot. With 'funk', this is even more pronounced, with just over half of the tokens coming from song lyrics. Seeing as I'm done with adding '70s songs, the rank of 'funk' on my list should gradually decline between now and the time I'm finished.

You are correct that 'rang' and 'stole' are listed separately from 'ring' and 'steal', or that contractions are listed as their own entries. This has always been the practice of IGCE. It was originally conceived as a list for teaching reading and spelling to English-speakers, and as such 'be', 'is', 'am', 'are', 'was', 'were' and 'been' are separate words, while 'walk', 'walks', 'walked' and 'walking' are not. In this way it was modeled after the Thorndike list. Thorndike was a groundbreaking experiment in corpus linguistics in its own time, although 18m words is too small to ensure accuracy at the lower frequency levels (some less-common words get in by chance, while some fairly common words get left out), and ofc Thorndike by now is way outdated.


All the best,
♂♥♂♀

Squirrels chase koi . . . chase squirrels

My Kankonian-English dictionary: 72,500 words and counting

31,416: The number of the conlanging beast!
User avatar
sangi39
moderator
moderator
Posts: 2793
Joined: 12 Aug 2010 01:53
Location: North Yorkshire, UK

Re: The Sixth Conversation Thread

Post by sangi39 »

Found out today that the University of Sheffield might move to close their archaeology department once the current load of students graduate. Obviously me thinking that sucks does come from a very personal place, but I do think it would be a shame in general. It's ranked pretty highly as a department both in the UK and in the world, its staff are pretty great (some of my favourite lecturers are still there, both teaching and doing research, and cover a fairly wide range of topics across time and space), and its staff and students form, and have formed, a part of some internationally known projects (like the Stonehenge Riverside Project, with Mike Parker-Pearson as one director) and smaller, local projects (like Heeley City Farm's reconstructed Iron Age roundhouse, and work with Creswell Museum & Heritage Centre in Derbyshire), and a host of projects and digs in between, which have helped in understanding our past, and to bring what has been learned to the wider public.

There's a petition going round at the moment, and almost everyone I'm still in touch with from my time studying at the department is writing directly to the university. We're not sure anyone there will listen, or whether it will make a difference, but it's worth a shot.
You can tell the same lie a thousand times,
But it never gets any more true,
So close your eyes once more and once more believe
That they all still believe in you.
Just one time.
Salmoneus
MVP
MVP
Posts: 2352
Joined: 19 Sep 2011 19:37

Re: The Sixth Conversation Thread

Post by Salmoneus »

Have you heard what's happening at the University of Leicester?

Earlier this year, they announced that they needed to sack 145 academics in order to "decolonise" the curriculum - including entirely shutting down its mediaeval and early modern literature courses (which typically studies non-black authors), as well as its English language and linguistics courses (not sure what the reasoning there is). More recently, they've moved on to the business school. One academic was told their research "displays the profund questioning of the authority and relevance of mainstream management thinking" - and that therefore they were no longer welcome. Other rationales for sacking included that someone had undertaken research that "discusses radical alternatives", that they had researched "alternative organisations and the social economy", or that they had conducted research "from a sociological perspective". In theory these are redundancies, but even before the staff are out the door the university is advertising for replacements, doing the same jobs, but without teaching qualifications or PhDs.

[their real PR mistake: pissing off both left (sacking management scholars for questioning management dogmas) and right (sacking mediaevalists because they don't talk enough about race and sexuality) at the same time...]

Ultimately, universities are more and more being pressured to act as for-profit businesses. But the university structure is fundamentally unprofitable. So they increasingly turn to hiring cheaper and less experienced staff, to removing subjects that don't attract enough pupils, and to reorienting the surviving courses toward market demands. Leicester had a famously left-wing business school, and so was valued by academics of all persuasions, because somebody has to do that 'critical management studies' research; but the sort of people who want to study business - and in particularly the Chinese, Russian and Arab students the university needs to attract for their money - don't want critical thinking, they want a mainstream, easily-marketable degree.

Similarly, Birmingham's apparently introducing an up-or-out system: any academic who doesn't get promoted within a set time span - on the basis of getting enough citations - will automatically be fired. In theory this is to prune the academic deadwood and promote the most talented - but in practice, it will be used to shutter entire departments that are considered too niche to be profitable.

In many cases, this is happening now with second-tier universities - Leicester, Birmingham, Sheffield - because they "invested" heavily in the good times in order to become attractive to foreign students. Advertising = foreign students = money = advertising. Or in other words: they ran up a fuckton of debt and now they need to find a way to pay it back. So the parts of the university that don't directly produce profit (at Leicester apparently they're also gutting their library staff, for instance, because nobody goes to a university on the basis of hearing that their libraries are efficiently managed...) are slashed back.
Khemehekis
runic
runic
Posts: 2815
Joined: 14 Aug 2010 09:36
Location: California über alles

Re: The Sixth Conversation Thread

Post by Khemehekis »

sangi39 wrote: 20 May 2021 21:06 Found out today that the University of Sheffield might move to close their archaeology department once the current load of students graduate. Obviously me thinking that sucks does come from a very personal place, but I do think it would be a shame in general. It's ranked pretty highly as a department both in the UK and in the world, its staff are pretty great (some of my favourite lecturers are still there, both teaching and doing research, and cover a fairly wide range of topics across time and space), and its staff and students form, and have formed, a part of some internationally known projects (like the Stonehenge Riverside Project, with Mike Parker-Pearson as one director) and smaller, local projects (like Heeley City Farm's reconstructed Iron Age roundhouse, and work with Creswell Museum & Heritage Centre in Derbyshire), and a host of projects and digs in between, which have helped in understanding our past, and to bring what has been learned to the wider public.

There's a petition going round at the moment, and almost everyone I'm still in touch with from my time studying at the department is writing directly to the university. We're not sure anyone there will listen, or whether it will make a difference, but it's worth a shot.
Wow, I'm sorry to hear that, Sangi. I know your original dream was degree in archaeology + job as an archaeologist (and you've discussed how things didn't turn out that way). So now they want to close down archaeology altogether? [:'(]

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

As for what Salmoneus said about business major types wanting mainstream marketable degrees and all that, we discuss this a lot on the NYRA (National Youth Rights Association) Facebook group. "College is the new high school." University is not for everyone. Once attending college (using the American sense of the word, i.e. university) became the norm for Americans, the preppies -- as Americans call clean-cut kids who follow society's script -- started all going to college, the middle-class-and-lower ones taking out student loans, not so they could learn critical thinking and the arts, but so they could get a post-tertiary job that would allow them to live in houses with white picket fences with their (obligatorily opposite-gender) spouses and 2.5 kids. College just became a way of keeping up with the Joneses, and we're now stuck with a problem of degree deflation.

As for American youth who aren't preppies? The jocks attend to play college football and join fraternities. The nerds attend to pursue study and career in their academic interests. And what I call "Youth Culturalists" -- the hippies, goths, skaters, slackers, hip-hoppers, VSCO girls, emo kids, and a dozen other subcultures -- mostly attended college too, at least in the U.S., so we could follow our Twengean passions in life such as the performing arts, the visual arts, or cannabiculture and be "special", and/or so we could partake in student activism for a plethora of left-wing political causes, and/or so we could party. Many of us, especially during the Boomer collegian years, also attend(ed) college to "find ourselves".

And of course, whatever subculture they are, many American Millennial kids just want to get rich!

Sorry this turned out so long and screedy.
♂♥♂♀

Squirrels chase koi . . . chase squirrels

My Kankonian-English dictionary: 72,500 words and counting

31,416: The number of the conlanging beast!
User avatar
elemtilas
runic
runic
Posts: 2934
Joined: 22 Nov 2014 04:48

Re: The Sixth Conversation Thread

Post by elemtilas »

Have you heard what's happening at the University of Leicester?
Wow. That's scary. But not unexpected. There is some very serious damage being done to Western Culture these last several decades. Are we all ready for a proper dark age? Not a slide into barbarism, but the choice to devolve, to regress willingly made?
User avatar
elemtilas
runic
runic
Posts: 2934
Joined: 22 Nov 2014 04:48

Re: The Sixth Conversation Thread

Post by elemtilas »

Khemehekis wrote: 21 May 2021 01:17 "College is the new high school." University is not for everyone.
Too true. Most especially for the public system. Too much focus on standardised tests; too much focus on socially correct issues that children don't actually need to learn about in school; less focus on knowledge, academic skills and how to apply them. The result is middle schoolers (I think that's what they're called in the public system) who aren't really ready for high school get passed along, and then they have to try and catch up. By the time they've caught up what they should have learned in middle school, they're passed through and along to the college where again they lag. One of our local community colleges literally has a program to teach all these uneducated public school graduates how to write in English, how to do maths, basics of science, basics of research. H.S. is supposed to end at grade 12, but these are literally grade 13 high schoolers.

And this is nothing new. If you look at text books and exam papers from the late 19th century, they covered the basic topics: English language, grammar, literature, rhetoric, Latin, geogrpahy, mathematics, algebra, geometry, history, sometimes theology and even philosophy pretty deeply and pretty broadly. I dare say no modern adult with a "marketable degree" could pass those exams!
Once attending college (using the American sense of the word, i.e. university) became the norm for Americans, the preppies -- as Americans call clean-cut kids who follow society's script -- started all going to college, the middle-class-and-lower ones taking out student loans, not so they could learn critical thinking and the arts, but so they could get a post-tertiary job that would allow them to live in houses with white picket fences with their (obligatorily opposite-gender) spouses and 2.5 kids. College just became a way of keeping up with the Joneses, and we're now stuck with a problem of degree deflation.
I.e., so that they didn't have to be dirt poor farmers or labourers or miners or steel mill workers like their dads and granddads, so that their kids didn't have to go to school barefoot with nothing to eat for lunch, so that they could grow up not in a poor company town or an industrial slum. And of course the spouse was obligatorily opposite gender. That's how the overwhelmingly vast majority of humans do it. Go to college, meet a guy, get married, fuck him senseless and make some children. That's life! And work your collective butts off so that they have a chance at a little better, little more comfortable life than you or your parents had.

Quite a lot of those college bound were GI Bill from the 1940s through the 1960s and into the 70s. With the technological explosion of the mid to late 20th century, many of those grads did very well. Probably not many "preppies" among them, if I understand the term correctly.
As for American youth who aren't preppies? The jocks attend to play college football and join fraternities. The nerds attend to pursue study and career in their academic interests. And what I call "Youth Culturalists" -- the hippies, goths, skaters, slackers, hip-hoppers, VSCO girls, emo kids, and a dozen other subcultures -- mostly attended college too, at least in the U.S., so we could follow our Twengean passions in life such as the performing arts, the visual arts, or cannabiculture and be "special", and/or so we could partake in student activism for a plethora of left-wing political causes, and/or so we could party. Many of us, especially during the Boomer collegian years, also attend(ed) college to "find ourselves".
I always found myself in the library!

Sometimes in the practical geometry lab.
User avatar
KaiTheHomoSapien
greek
greek
Posts: 560
Joined: 15 Feb 2016 06:10
Location: Northern California

Re: The Sixth Conversation Thread

Post by KaiTheHomoSapien »

elemtilas wrote: 21 May 2021 05:24 And this is nothing new. If you look at text books and exam papers from the late 19th century, they covered the basic topics: English language, grammar, literature, rhetoric, Latin, geogrpahy, mathematics, algebra, geometry, history, sometimes theology and even philosophy pretty deeply and pretty broadly. I dare say no modern adult with a "marketable degree" could pass those exams!
Definitely. The attitude around here is if it's not STEM, it's completely worthless. I with my linguistics major and Latin minor am being quite defiant. [:D]
User avatar
elemtilas
runic
runic
Posts: 2934
Joined: 22 Nov 2014 04:48

Re: The Sixth Conversation Thread

Post by elemtilas »

KaiTheHomoSapien wrote: 21 May 2021 05:42
elemtilas wrote: 21 May 2021 05:24 And this is nothing new. If you look at text books and exam papers from the late 19th century, they covered the basic topics: English language, grammar, literature, rhetoric, Latin, geogrpahy, mathematics, algebra, geometry, history, sometimes theology and even philosophy pretty deeply and pretty broadly. I dare say no modern adult with a "marketable degree" could pass those exams!
Definitely. The attitude around here is if it's not STEM, it's completely worthless. I with my linguistics major and Latin minor am being quite defiant. [:D]
Go defiantly into that dark and stemy night!
User avatar
Creyeditor
MVP
MVP
Posts: 4336
Joined: 14 Aug 2012 19:32

Re: The Sixth Conversation Thread

Post by Creyeditor »

Salmoneus wrote: 21 May 2021 00:42 Similarly, Birmingham's apparently introducing an up-or-out system: any academic who doesn't get promoted within a set time span - on the basis of getting enough citations - will automatically be fired. In theory this is to prune the academic deadwood and promote the most talented - but in practice, it will be used to shutter entire departments that are considered too niche to be profitable.
I think this is starting to become the norm in some disciplines. Being fired (in practice a contract is often just not extended) is often considered a good thing in politics because it is supposed to allow academic mobility and transfer of knowledge. In practice it just means that - unless you are a professor - you have cannot be sure about your financial situation in six years.
Creyeditor
"Thoughts are free."
Produce, Analyze, Manipulate
1 :deu: 2 :eng: 3 :idn: 4 :fra: 4 :esp:
:con: Ook & Omlűt & Nautli languages & Sperenjas
[<3] Papuan languages, Morphophonology, Lexical Semantics [<3]
Salmoneus
MVP
MVP
Posts: 2352
Joined: 19 Sep 2011 19:37

Re: The Sixth Conversation Thread

Post by Salmoneus »

There's obviously some truth to that excuse: academia does have a problem with budgets being hogged by ancient professors and emeritus professors who have hung around the place for decades, picking up friends and reputation on the basis of that one book they wrote forty years ago, blocking younger and more innovative voices from being heard (or paid). Certainly nobody would want things to go as far as in America, with its "tenure" that seems to be tantamount to union-negotiated immunity from accountability. There has to be a way to get rid of older academics, and there has to be some sort of reward for (or punishment for avoiding) continued relevant research*.

However, it has to be done with some finesse and understanding. It has to understand three things:
a) the academic environment requires a lot of niches, and some of them, no matter how great the academic in them, are never going to be 'star' disciplines;
b) even in disciplines where there are stars, those stars benefit immeasurably from having non-star academics around them. Whether that's people to do the unsexy research legwork that provides the data and tools for the brilliant new idea, or people to hang around the cafeteria and never have their own idea but help improve everyone else's ideas by poking holes in them, or just people to actually waste time teaching all those annoying students, a faculty that consists only of the best and brightest will not be the best or brightest faculty...;
c) whether your work is being cited by other people a lot is a metric that captures part of what it is to be a succesful academic; but it's only a small part. Like all operationalised metrics, it allows a lot of value to slip through the mesh, and like all operationalised metrics it can be and will be gamed.


The underlying problem of academia, however, is that there's a fundamental market incentive mismatch: what we're paying for isn't want we say we want.

In fact, there's two paradoxes:
a) academics, and much of the public, believes universities are there to pursue wisdom and knowledge; the government believes they are there to "prepare young people for the real world of work". Academics therefore want to focus on research on valuable and interesting problems; but incentives are set up to force a focus on teaching, and in particular on teaching 'useful' subjects.
b) the government wants universities to produce a certain workforce. But their free market convictions mean that the actual incentives are driven by what the prospective students want, not the government, and what the students want often isn't what the government wants (OR what academics want...)



*I'm reminded of Derek Parfit. As legend has it, after the publication of his seminal work (Reasons and Persons), he persuaded the university authorities to give him a special chair, making him immune from both teaching and publication requirements, so that he could concentrate fully on writing the eagerly-awaited sequel. Then he spent the next 30 years arguing that jobs like his were a terrible mistake, and campaigning to prevent any similar post ever being awarded again. And also wandering around the town photographing things. I remember being amused that the Philosophy Faculty was unable to get him to actually write his damn book (excerpts of it were handed around as a trade secret in my time as a student - we were to be enlightened by it but forbidden from referencing it directly - but not published until years later, and the final volume was posthumous), but HAD managed to get him to contribute most of the photos on the Faculty website...
User avatar
sangi39
moderator
moderator
Posts: 2793
Joined: 12 Aug 2010 01:53
Location: North Yorkshire, UK

Re: The Sixth Conversation Thread

Post by sangi39 »

Salmoneus wrote: 21 May 2021 00:42 Have you heard what's happening at the University of Leicester?

Earlier this year, they announced that they needed to sack 145 academics in order to "decolonise" the curriculum - including entirely shutting down its mediaeval and early modern literature courses (which typically studies non-black authors), as well as its English language and linguistics courses (not sure what the reasoning there is). More recently, they've moved on to the business school. One academic was told their research "displays the profund questioning of the authority and relevance of mainstream management thinking" - and that therefore they were no longer welcome. Other rationales for sacking included that someone had undertaken research that "discusses radical alternatives", that they had researched "alternative organisations and the social economy", or that they had conducted research "from a sociological perspective". In theory these are redundancies, but even before the staff are out the door the university is advertising for replacements, doing the same jobs, but without teaching qualifications or PhDs.

[their real PR mistake: pissing off both left (sacking management scholars for questioning management dogmas) and right (sacking mediaevalists because they don't talk enough about race and sexuality) at the same time...]

Ultimately, universities are more and more being pressured to act as for-profit businesses. But the university structure is fundamentally unprofitable. So they increasingly turn to hiring cheaper and less experienced staff, to removing subjects that don't attract enough pupils, and to reorienting the surviving courses toward market demands. Leicester had a famously left-wing business school, and so was valued by academics of all persuasions, because somebody has to do that 'critical management studies' research; but the sort of people who want to study business - and in particularly the Chinese, Russian and Arab students the university needs to attract for their money - don't want critical thinking, they want a mainstream, easily-marketable degree.

Similarly, Birmingham's apparently introducing an up-or-out system: any academic who doesn't get promoted within a set time span - on the basis of getting enough citations - will automatically be fired. In theory this is to prune the academic deadwood and promote the most talented - but in practice, it will be used to shutter entire departments that are considered too niche to be profitable.

In many cases, this is happening now with second-tier universities - Leicester, Birmingham, Sheffield - because they "invested" heavily in the good times in order to become attractive to foreign students. Advertising = foreign students = money = advertising. Or in other words: they ran up a fuckton of debt and now they need to find a way to pay it back. So the parts of the university that don't directly produce profit (at Leicester apparently they're also gutting their library staff, for instance, because nobody goes to a university on the basis of hearing that their libraries are efficiently managed...) are slashed back.
I actually hadn't heard about Leicester at all, or Birmingham, so that's pretty much news to me. I was aware of, for example, moves towards universities having a broader scope within the arts and "soft sciences" in terms of diversity of backgrounds, but I wasn't aware of entire departments shut down and numbers of staff being replaced on that basis. I mean, I can see the reasoning for it, and the intended result, but I can't say I agree with the approach. And if it means lecturers and researchers who actively challenge accepted schools of thought, well, isn't that at least part of the point of universities? To introduce people to a variety of differing interpretations of the world, that students can poke and prod, and build upon to better understand the subject?

One of my engineering friends from Sheffield (currently working under the University of Calgary), has mentioned universities becoming more and more business-like, especially in the business- and engineering-related subjects, with a move towards providing people with stable job prospects based on "accepted wisdom" (basically something that won't push too many red buttons for future employers) rather than on doing anything overly "out there" or "novel". His thinking is that this is mainly coming from above, especially in regards to funding, where a given university is expected to roll out "workers" in a given field, who will go on to more directly affect the economy, rather than funding science that has no immediate value (the whole "I don't know what it could do, but I know you'll tax it one day" line of thinking doesn't seem to fly any more).

I can't say I know much about the situation with foreign students, but at least at Sheffield they did seem to be more heavily involved in things like hard sciences and business, which I guess is the sort of thing you travel thousands of miles for over, and if that's where the money is, while arts and "soft sciences" get little to nothing in the way of income, then, treating universities like a business, it would make sense to cut them. Again, I don't agree with it, but if that's the sort of thing heads of universities are dealing with, I can see why they'd do it.


To go on to what Khemehekis said about universities becoming a place for people to go to "earn more money" in the USA, I think the same thing has been happening here in the UK. When I was in college, so much emphasis was placed on applying to university (everyone in my year had to at least apply), because it could raise your income by some percentage, because degrees meant you were more highly valued (I assume as well that university acceptance rates might have affected funding for the college - the more students go off to university, the more money they'd get, which would allow them to pay for better teaching and equipment). I think at the time they were still relatively rare, so it sort of made sense. A few years ago, though, we hit 50% of college students being accepted to a university, and then education (in some form or another) to 18, as opposed to 16, became compulsory. So basically everyone aged 18 now has A-Levels (or some equivalent qualification), and half of them have degrees? What does a degree even mean any more at that point? I mean, I suppose it's fine if you're going into a niche field (assuming it's receiving funding any more), but I had to compete with people to get a retail job and had to actively argue why my degree didn't matter.


It does seem like universities are being... "targeted" might be the wrong choice of words... from both ends. Responding to pressure from above, they need to act more like businesses, so cut funding to unprofitable departments. Then responding to pressure from the side and below, from popular movements and societal trends, they're cutting funding to disagreeable(?) staff and departments. The arts suffer, subjects like sociology, psychology, archaeology, anthropology, etc. can't grow, and the hard sciences and economics departments just become factories for a labour force.
You can tell the same lie a thousand times,
But it never gets any more true,
So close your eyes once more and once more believe
That they all still believe in you.
Just one time.
User avatar
sangi39
moderator
moderator
Posts: 2793
Joined: 12 Aug 2010 01:53
Location: North Yorkshire, UK

Re: The Sixth Conversation Thread

Post by sangi39 »

Khemehekis wrote: 21 May 2021 01:17
sangi39 wrote: 20 May 2021 21:06 Found out today that the University of Sheffield might move to close their archaeology department once the current load of students graduate. Obviously me thinking that sucks does come from a very personal place, but I do think it would be a shame in general. It's ranked pretty highly as a department both in the UK and in the world, its staff are pretty great (some of my favourite lecturers are still there, both teaching and doing research, and cover a fairly wide range of topics across time and space), and its staff and students form, and have formed, a part of some internationally known projects (like the Stonehenge Riverside Project, with Mike Parker-Pearson as one director) and smaller, local projects (like Heeley City Farm's reconstructed Iron Age roundhouse, and work with Creswell Museum & Heritage Centre in Derbyshire), and a host of projects and digs in between, which have helped in understanding our past, and to bring what has been learned to the wider public.

There's a petition going round at the moment, and almost everyone I'm still in touch with from my time studying at the department is writing directly to the university. We're not sure anyone there will listen, or whether it will make a difference, but it's worth a shot.
Wow, I'm sorry to hear that, Sangi. I know your original dream was degree in archaeology + job as an archaeologist (and you've discussed how things didn't turn out that way). So now they want to close down archaeology altogether? [:'(]
There are, at the moment, three options being considered, 1) to keep the department going as is, 2) remove archaeology as a distinct subject and merge it into other subjects (so, say, linguistics, history, modules on gender studies, etc.), or 3) dissolve the department entirely and make all current staff redundant as the current run of students graduate.

I don't know how, say, Doonan's work on metallurgy would fit in to option 2 (let alone his outreach work), for example. Or where any sort of geophys work might fit in either, so presumably option 2 still leads to redundancies and a loss of resources. There are still finds from Stonehenge from 2009 being studied. What happens to them? Does Kuykendall get thrown in with the biology departments because of his work on human evolution, or does he get sidelined completely? Does John Bennet (if I ever spell that with two Ts he'd kill me) get to keep doing his research on the ancient Aegean, or does he have to head off permanently to the British School of Athens, and what happens if that loses funding? John Barrett was one of the first people to tell us that while a well-read conclusion is essential, the idea of "balance" as taught in colleges is the wrong approach (he didn't care if you disagreed with him, he cared that you made a point, and made it well). Does he get thrown into Biblical Studies? Does that even get to stay open? Susan Sherratt is out, because she probably doesn't even qualify to work for Art History studies. Bob Johnston is gone unless he can fit into geography. Even Marek Zvelebil, were he still alive, would probably be made redundant (loved that bouncing Czech).

I swear, the only thing that probably could keep it going would be Mike Parker-Pearson, and he's off down south now. He was quoted in the Guardian, though, saying what a loss it would be for the department to close or be shuffled into other disciplines. We'll see.
You can tell the same lie a thousand times,
But it never gets any more true,
So close your eyes once more and once more believe
That they all still believe in you.
Just one time.
User avatar
sangi39
moderator
moderator
Posts: 2793
Joined: 12 Aug 2010 01:53
Location: North Yorkshire, UK

Re: The Sixth Conversation Thread

Post by sangi39 »

Salmoneus wrote: 22 May 2021 00:04 There's obviously some truth to that excuse: academia does have a problem with budgets being hogged by ancient professors and emeritus professors who have hung around the place for decades, picking up friends and reputation on the basis of that one book they wrote forty years ago, blocking younger and more innovative voices from being heard (or paid). Certainly nobody would want things to go as far as in America, with its "tenure" that seems to be tantamount to union-negotiated immunity from accountability. There has to be a way to get rid of older academics, and there has to be some sort of reward for (or punishment for avoiding) continued relevant research*.

However, it has to be done with some finesse and understanding. It has to understand three things:
a) the academic environment requires a lot of niches, and some of them, no matter how great the academic in them, are never going to be 'star' disciplines;
b) even in disciplines where there are stars, those stars benefit immeasurably from having non-star academics around them. Whether that's people to do the unsexy research legwork that provides the data and tools for the brilliant new idea, or people to hang around the cafeteria and never have their own idea but help improve everyone else's ideas by poking holes in them, or just people to actually waste time teaching all those annoying students, a faculty that consists only of the best and brightest will not be the best or brightest faculty...;
c) whether your work is being cited by other people a lot is a metric that captures part of what it is to be a succesful academic; but it's only a small part. Like all operationalised metrics, it allows a lot of value to slip through the mesh, and like all operationalised metrics it can be and will be gamed.


The underlying problem of academia, however, is that there's a fundamental market incentive mismatch: what we're paying for isn't want we say we want.

In fact, there's two paradoxes:
a) academics, and much of the public, believes universities are there to pursue wisdom and knowledge; the government believes they are there to "prepare young people for the real world of work". Academics therefore want to focus on research on valuable and interesting problems; but incentives are set up to force a focus on teaching, and in particular on teaching 'useful' subjects.
b) the government wants universities to produce a certain workforce. But their free market convictions mean that the actual incentives are driven by what the prospective students want, not the government, and what the students want often isn't what the government wants (OR what academics want...)



*I'm reminded of Derek Parfit. As legend has it, after the publication of his seminal work (Reasons and Persons), he persuaded the university authorities to give him a special chair, making him immune from both teaching and publication requirements, so that he could concentrate fully on writing the eagerly-awaited sequel. Then he spent the next 30 years arguing that jobs like his were a terrible mistake, and campaigning to prevent any similar post ever being awarded again. And also wandering around the town photographing things. I remember being amused that the Philosophy Faculty was unable to get him to actually write his damn book (excerpts of it were handed around as a trade secret in my time as a student - we were to be enlightened by it but forbidden from referencing it directly - but not published until years later, and the final volume was posthumous), but HAD managed to get him to contribute most of the photos on the Faculty website...
I can't say there's a single part of this that I disagree with (as far as I'm reading it). Universities are such a weird place. Part way between "knowledge for knowledge's sake" and "here's your educated workforce"
You can tell the same lie a thousand times,
But it never gets any more true,
So close your eyes once more and once more believe
That they all still believe in you.
Just one time.
User avatar
KaiTheHomoSapien
greek
greek
Posts: 560
Joined: 15 Feb 2016 06:10
Location: Northern California

Re: The Sixth Conversation Thread

Post by KaiTheHomoSapien »

Meh. I'm on the side of "knowledge for knowledge's sake" if I'm to be on any side (only because I see this justification declining in favor of the other). There's a part of me that wishes we could go back to the days of a college degree not being seen as a necessary base requirement for any job above "burger flipper". There's value in education for education's sake and not simply a means to churn out workers and teach the "useful" subjects. I never want to see the humanities die in favor of STEM.

Of course I have a bias being a linguistics major and being the son of a university professor who teaches classics. [>_<]
User avatar
sangi39
moderator
moderator
Posts: 2793
Joined: 12 Aug 2010 01:53
Location: North Yorkshire, UK

Re: The Sixth Conversation Thread

Post by sangi39 »

Well the petition ended up getting 34000 signatures in the end, which is pretty cool

The University Executive Board, though, voted in favour of a proposal for closing the department, but has suggested merging human osteology and cultural heritage into other departments (which ones, I don't know yet). The proposal will be discussing by the University Senate on the 23rd of June, and the final decision on the proposal will be made by the University Council on the 12th of July, so there's still time, I guess.

There's obviously a fair amount of people who are tad peeved with the vote, but at least it's not final yet. On the other hand, someone at the university said "[t]he university is committed to retaining areas of strength in archaeology teaching and research at Sheffield" and "we will continue to play a role in our local communities and honour our commitment to all current students who will receive high-quality teaching and support", which doesn't fill me with hope. If that's what being said after choosing to close (most of) an already "strong" department, well...
You can tell the same lie a thousand times,
But it never gets any more true,
So close your eyes once more and once more believe
That they all still believe in you.
Just one time.
User avatar
elemtilas
runic
runic
Posts: 2934
Joined: 22 Nov 2014 04:48

Re: The Sixth Conversation Thread

Post by elemtilas »

sangi39 wrote: 26 May 2021 19:47 "[t]he university is committed to retaining areas of strength in archaeology teaching and research at Sheffield"

"we will continue to play a role in our local communities and honour our commitment to all current students who will receive high-quality teaching and support"
Corporate speak.

It never ends well.

Those sentences should probably go into the translation challenge, because while the words appear to be English, they actually aren't.

the university is committed --- no it's not, this actually means "we're throwing you under the bus"

retaining --- disposing of

areas of strength --- departments we've already determined are either weak or we in the Senate a/o Council have no interest in

teaching and research --- useless to developing our financial strength

we will continue to play a role in our local communities --- we will continue to seek more avenues of funding within the community

honour our commitment --- and develop stronger & more utilitarian programmes

all current students --- our beloved ca$h cows, now and for decades to come through tuition, alumni support scams and benevolent societies

high-quality teaching and support --- except for those berks that chose, ahem, archaeology over IT, Cyber, AI or any of our far more lucrative STEM offerings
Post Reply