Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Scientific illiteracy in the information-rich US

With rational policy on everything from the benefits of genetic research to the risks of terrorism in modern urban society dependent on the public's (and the government's) understanding of basic scientific principles, a recent story in the New York Times on scientific illiteracy is alarming indeed. According to political science professor Jon D. Miller of Northwestern University only about a quarter of Americans are "scientifically savvy and alert":

American adults in general do not understand what molecules are (other than that they are really small). Fewer than a third can identify DNA as a key to heredity. Only about 10 percent know what radiation is. One adult American in five thinks the Sun revolves around the Earth, an idea science had abandoned by the 17th century.

Interestingly, Miller himself locates the failure as starting all the way back with our public school systems, which he says are underfunded: "This country cannot finance good school systems on property taxes". I personally would push this argument further and wonder what the "uneven geography" of scientific literacy in the US looks like. Which school systems produce the most scientifically illiterate students (either in numbers of students falling below a threshold of understanding, or lowest overall misunderstanding for a comparable population of students). But I too suspect that with more resources devoted to teaching students about the natural, material, physical, and human-built world and the science, natural history, mathematics, and engineering which underlie it, scientific literacy could be greatly improved.

It seems like there are more dots to be connected, however. We may be living in an "information economy" as measured by our production, consmption, and productive use of information-processing devices and information-rich media, but if we are to claim that we live in a "knowledge society" then we need a different set of measures. A society with twenty-first century technology should be appalled to find out that any significant percentage of its children live comfortably with "common sense" ideas that were discredited in the seventeenth century.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Ostensibly saving paper, but really making labor, at a state university

I've written before on this blog using the example of my state's recent years of university budget-cutting to illustrate how public and legislative support for both the quality and quantity of information labor -- and education for future information laborers -- can so easily evaporate or become sidetracked into sensationalist trivia. Here's another good example from a fellow university in our state system. As reported in Inside Higher Ed, at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh this year, professors in the College of Letters and Sciences are now prohibited from handing out paper syllabi in an effort to save pennies:

In making cuts, Zimmerman says, the college tries to protect its academic mission and the syllabus policy would never have been adopted if anyone thought it would hurt students. He adds that many professors elsewhere have already stopped handing out syllabuses. “A good number of people we’ve spoken to have never even seen a hard copy of a syllabus,” he says.

From an educational perspective, the policy could help students if they go to professors’ Web sites before classes start, and either read or print out a copy. “If they think about class before they show up the first day, it might enhance student learning,” he says.

The bait and switch here is typical of much writing on the "effects" of cyberspace on material labor practices -- an assumption that one can unproblematically replace the other. "Telecommuting" replaces travel using automobiles, "telemedecine" replaces rural health care clinics, "distance education" replaces the construction of pesky brick-and-mortar classrooms, and of course Google replaces the public library. Right? But such facile comparison hides the complexities of virtual and material practices.

With regard to syllabi, we need to think of them not simply as equivalent material artifacts where one has physical costs and one is virtually free, but artifacts that are produced and used in particular ways for particular purposes. For example, I'm a professor at a big state university who prints out paper syllabi for all of his students on the first day of class -- whether that class has 500 students or 5 students. I believe students will be able to follow along with my explanation of the class purpose, method, and details better with a physical piece of paper before them. I believe they will be able to better decide whether to take my class if they have that piece of paper to regard over dinner that night. And I believe that if they take my class, that piece of paper will serve as a valuable reminder of what they learned later. I've kept paper syllabi from classes I took two decades ago in college.

Yet at the same time the printout of my class syllabus comes directly from the website I create for my class. The printout has the URL of the website prominently displayed. I advise and expect my students to visit the "live" class web site weekly in case something changes or in case I have good information to add. Both informational artifacts serve a different purpose in education, and have different space/time roles. Together they enhance each other.

They both have different production and labor dynamics as well. The paper syllabus, presented on the first day, forces me, the instructor, to have my course worked out in detail weeks beforehand. The web syllabus allows me to be dynamic in my educational practices -- to a degree. I know the students have the original printout and I restrain myself from deviating too much from my original plan. Plus, the paper syllabus can be printed out "in batch" at very low capital and labor and spatial/temporal costs, in a centralized, specialized copy center (reaping economies of scale and expertise). If I had all my own students print their own syllabi, it would take a myriad of decentralized printers, all of which need service, toner, electricity, and attention. I would be trading off my own brief labor and the paid labor of professional printing staff for the much more time-consuming, unpaid labor of my students, plus the largely invisible but costly labor of network printer support staff.

Even when one actually counts the dollars and cents, the policy doesn't add up:

The college never figured out the exact cost of printing syllabuses, he says. But copies cost the college about 2 cents a page, nearly all of the university’s 11,000 students take at least some classes in the college, and syllabuses run from a page to 15 pages.

My back-of-the-envelope estimate shows that if each of these students took 2 L&S classes with a syllabus of 10 pages each, the total cost per semester would be $4,400. That's about the cost of ten distributed printers -- which will likely break down frequently -- or perhaps one-tenth the annual salary of one service person to keep those printers in working order. I'd take the copying if I were truly interested in cost-cutting.

This whole issue -- and so far my whole response to it -- has been over a triviality which distracts the public, the legislature, the university staff, and the students from the real issue:

Zimmerman says that the Wisconsin system’s budget “has been cut relentlessly” and that deans have no choice but to try to save every penny. Zimmerman has been dean for 14 years, and his college’s budget (about $18.5 million) is down from where it was when he started. Not a single unit in his college is receiving more money now than when he started, despite inflation generally and huge increases in costs such as scientific equipment.

Education is being sacrificed here to other state priorities -- and private profits -- over a decades-long term, and we're arguing over two-cent copies, blaming professors who want to educate their students in the most effective way they know how. Incredible.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Is Disney abusing Chinese workers to make books to sell to US kids?

I need to start this post by reminding readers that Disney is a transnational media firm, courting an international consumer market with largely Western European- and US-inspired media products of all sorts, which owns, among other properties, ABC. I also need to mention that I could find nothing about this story on the ABC News web site.

A report in the UK Guardian today was headlined "Disney accused of labour abuses in Chinese factories." I don't usually reprint whole articles verbatim on my weblog, but in this case I think I should:

Walt Disney said yesterday it had hired an auditor to investigate claims of widespread labour abuses in Chinese factories that make children's books for the company.

A report from the National Labor Committee, a human rights group, alleges that workers are forced to be at factories for up to 15 hours a day, are paid below the minimum wage and denied holiday, overtime and maternity pay. It was based on interviews with 120 workers at five factories in Shenzhen province.

The report says one company, Hung Hing Printing, has one of the worst records in the province for industrial accidents. One 24-year-old woman was crushed to death in 2002 by a hole-punching machine and a man killed when he accidentally touched an exposed mechanism. Crushed hands and fingers from unsafe machinery are common occurrences, it alleges.

Interviews and video footage from the plants were supplied by a Hong Kong-based human rights organisation, Students and Scholars against Corporate Misbehaviour.

"At one printing factory producing Disney books, there are four to five accidents a week. People lost their fingers and palms," said Billy Hung, coordinator of the group. "But ... the factory just hires new workers and the accidents simply continue."

Workers said they had to meet targets or lose pay, which meant they usually worked longer than the official 12-hour day. The group claimed workers were paid just 35 cents (20 pence) an hour, below the region's minimum wage of 42 cents an hour.

Supervisors are also said to scream insults at workers such as: "You are a stupid pig." According to testimony, workers often faint due to the intense heat and fast-paced work. One said: "In meetings management would say, 'if you faint, you deserve it and I won't sympathise with you'. "

Disney said it took the allegations "very seriously" and had asked the non-profit social auditing firm Verité to investigate. The firm said it would "take the appropriate actions to remediate violations found".

The report also claims that Disney audits are a sham and that workers are coached on what to say or face being fired.

At another firm, Nord Race in the city of Dongguan, staff are paid just 33 cents an hour. The report claims the firm demands 13- to 15-hour shifts, seven days a week, in stifling heat. Workers have no health insurance and if late, they lose half an hour's wages for every minute they miss, it claims.

Nord Race denied the claims in a statement to the Associated Press and said it complied with Chinese labour laws.

The report has been published at a sensitive time for Disney, just a month before Hong Kong's Disneyland theme park is officially opened.

This story should remind us that, far from "virtual" and "weightless," the global information economy -- both in its hardware products like CD players and computers, and in its software or content products like books, CDs, and DVDs -- is still a material, messy, and often dangerous production economy. Formed in 1981, the National Labor Committee is one of the many global activist organizations which, in its own words, believes:

Transnational corporations now roam the world to find the cheapest and most vulnerable workers. The people who stitch together our jeans and assemble our CD-players are mostly young women in Central America, Mexico, Bangladesh, China and other poor nations, many working 12 to 14-hour days for pennies an hour. The lack of accountability on the part of our U.S. corporations--now operating all over the world, and the resulting dehumanization of this new global workforce is emerging as the overwhelming moral crisis of the 21st century. The struggle for rule of law in the global economy--to ensure respect for the fundamental rights of the millions of workers producing goods for the U.S. market--has become the great new civil rights movement of our time.

You might remember the NLC as one of the organizations involved in the 1996 Kathy Lee Gifford / WalMart sweatshop debate. More information on their Disney report, and their other projects, can be found on their web site.

More information on Disney is available from independent sources, including a list of their media holdings (compiled by the Columbia Journalism Review) and an investor's fact sheet by Hoover's.

You may of course want to get Disney's side of this story as well. Visit their corporate website at http://corporate.disney.go.com/ -- especially their public relations statement on international labor standards.

The company has not yet issued a press release on its web site responding to the NLC accusations.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Only half of those taking ACT college entrance test have adequate reading skills (updated)

No pretense at rigorous analysis today, only a lament.

I remain convinced that "reading skills" are key to individual, corporate, regional, and national success in the ever-changing information economy and culture we find ourselves in. So you can imagine my dismay at this New York Times report:

Only about half of this year's high school graduates have the reading skills they need to succeed in college, and even fewer are prepared for college-level science and math courses, according to a yearly report from ACT, which produces one of the nation's leading college admissions tests.

The report, based on scores of the 2005 high school graduates who took the exam, some 1.2 million students in all, also found that fewer than one in four met the college-readiness benchmarks in all four subjects tested: reading comprehension, English, math and science.

I would argue that this indicates that, despite Republican-led "education reform" legislation over the last five years, children are being "left behind." Perhaps "taxpayer revolt" movements which argue that quality schools shouldn't be so expensive have had something to do with this too. Maybe the general and repeated anti-intellectualism and anti-science attitude of the Bush administration is coming through loud and clear to our young people. I just don't know. But as a state university educator who teaches a core writing course to hundreds of undergraduates a year, I know that I and my rather low-paid teaching assistants will be next in line to face the challenge of educating this cohort. It's a position from which I think I can quite clearly see the connections between investing in public schools and investing in productive economies. Why can't enough taxpaying private property owners and/or enough taxpaying private corporations see that connection too?

P.S. A related article today, from the Associated Press, on public schools:

Forty percent of public school teachers plan to exit the profession within five years, the highest rate since at least 1990, according to a study being released Thursday.

The rate is expected to be even greater among high school teachers, half of whom plan to be out of teaching by 2010, according to the National Center for Education Information.

Retirements will open up entry-level slots for younger, and cheaper, teachers, which may help ease school budgets a bit. Then again pensions will still need to be paid out to retirees, probably for a long time. Hopefully this demographic shift in teaching won't be used as yet another excuse for defunding education at this critical time in our nation's history. Otherwise, the students of tomorrow will be just as ill-prepared as those of today as they face the expanding universe of cacophonous but detail-rich media, the global panopoly of interests and beliefs which are far more complex than the simplistic struggle of "freedom versus terror," and the end of a century of petoleum dependence which will have devastatingly differential effects in rich, militarily-secure countries versus poor, conflict-ridden ones.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Academics "branding" themselves, their books, and their research topics on the web

A student of mine sent me a link to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education entitled "Master (or Mistress) of Your Domain," by Michael J. Bugeja (I'd link to it, but viewing requires either a subscription or an emailed invitation). Anyway, the article details advice from the director of a journalism school at Iowa State University on how faculty can use the web to "brand" themselves, their research output (books), and even their research topics. Why engage in such marketing? To gain notice of peers that can translate into letters of recommendation for tenure and promotion committees.

Faculty web sites are common, but range widely in the amount of information provided and the level of effort invested (my own web site takes up way too much of my time -- but I feel it does get noticed, especially by my students). Sites for faculty books -- stand-alone sites with their own catchy domain names, not simply listings on publisher catalogs -- are less common. The third category, branding a research topic, is most interesting to me:

This year I set up a research site with an assistant professor [...] who shares my concern about the Internet's dynamic but unstable features. In such an environment, footnotes often disappear in online documents and databases, threatening scholarship as we know it.

Our research has been featured in The Chronicle and other publications and journals, and all of that is accessible via our site, whose domain name -- halfnotes.org -- suggests our contribution to the discipline: "the half-life of Internet footnotes," or the time it takes for one half of footnotes to decay in an online document.

Whereas the objective of a book site is to sell the text, the goal of a research site is to provide access to scholarly work, establishing that narrow niche necessary to document "the potential for national distinction" and "contributions to the discipline."

Such a site should explain why your work makes that contribution. We do so with links explaining how our research began, where it has taken us, and where we intend to take it. The site also contains downloadable pictures and vitas along with book recommendations and reprints. Other links go to my book site and [my colleague's] Web site.

So when editors or colleagues query us about our research, we answer briefly via e-mail and then send them to halfnotes.org, which we update whenever we publish new data.

True, maintaining such a research site is one more chore in our digital day, but that simple upkeep also serves to accumulate the history of our scholarship and our contribution to the discipline.

It's interesting to me how such efforts seem to fit in with recent moves by universities to "brand" the research coming from their professors -- for private universities, a way of demonstrating value and prestige, and for public universities, a necessary strategic response to hostile legislatures who don't understand the kind of research produced by their state employees. But both sets of practices -- individual branding and institutional branding based on research topic -- carry a risk, I think. With the practice of "branding" comes an implicit assertion of "ownership." And research at the academic level isn't about taking personal, private, and protected control over a particular resarch topic, method, or twist -- it's about engaging a global community of scholars on a particular set of research questions.

I think the three types of "branding" discussed here -- having your own site as a faculty member, creating a site for a book you are trying to sell, and creating a site based on the research you claim to do (or to own?) -- differ significantly in degree and in the interests they serve. Personally, I'm extremely comfortable with having a personal website, and I readily acknowledge that it serves a personal career-building function for me. Not only do I list all my publications on my site, making it a virtual "cv," but I automatically repost my latest blog rambling there and even reveal my salary and employment history to interested readers. I think all of those things, while serving my personal interests, serve the academic interests of information openness and contextualization of scholarship and teaching as well (which is why I feel justified in placing them on university-sponsored resources).

Although I provide information on my own books (which are for sale in the marketplace and which, for one, I earn nearly a 50-cent royalty per copy), I feel less comfortable with creating a book website with its own domain, disconnected from the rest of my research, teaching, and biography. My publisher should promote my book in this way if they desire; they're reaping the bulk of the profits, if any, from my books, not me (or my university).

Finally, I'm of mixed opion about claiming jurisdiction over a whole area of research with a web site. I have my own weblog -- the one you're reading now -- to illustrate and work through my own research interests, but consider it a conversation rather than a manifesto ... engaging with a terrain of scholarship rather than staking out that terrain and claiming that I alone serve it best. I intentionally host this weblog outside of my university, to allow for the inevitable crossover of political-economic and academic conversation which is increasingly prohibited in state university settings (while, I might add, the advocates of so-called "Academic Bill of Rights" claim that "conservative" speech by students in the classroom is somehow trampled by "liberal" professors on a regular basis). But it's still less than I want it to be.

I'm frustrated that I haven't figured out how to turn this weblog into a more collaborative experience. There are other researchers at my own university who do work on topics similar to my own, from very different points of view or research methods or sets of expectations, and we've found that engaging with each other on the web is difficult. I think part of this -- on my end at least -- does come from the fact that, as cooperative as we'd like to think we are in academia (and we are EXTREMELY cooperative compared to just about any knowledge-producing process in the private sector) we nevertheless find ourselves in a artificially competitive labor market -- not only within single departments, but within single universities and across different universities -- where the culture we learn from Day One is "distinguish yourself!"

Perhaps the moral here is that, as in so many other aspects of modern life, the traces we leave on the web serve to highlight and magnify both the best and the worst of the social processes we engage in. I guess I just hope that new social practices of "branding" researchers, research universities, and that research itself, leads in the end to wider public understanding and appreciation of all three, rather than the narrow interests of individual or group privatization, accumulation, and hoarding of knowledge and the benefits which accrue from it.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Boston Globe reveals sham "think tanks" and "research journals"

Saw this Boston Globe article floating around the blogs today and initially I was dismayed -- not just because there are well-funded people out there who are trying to "spoof" actual academic associations and journals with sound-alike scam versions in order to peddle their personal (and, to me, hateful) beliefs as honest, peer-reviewed research, but because the president of the dominant economic and military force across the globe apparently believes this stuff (or, worse, doesn't believe it personally but wants voters to think he does):

President Bush had a ready answer when asked in January for his view of adoption by same-sex couples: ''Studies have shown that the ideal is where a child is raised in a married family with a man and a woman,' the president said.

Bush's assertion raised eyebrows among specialists. The American Academy of Pediatrics, composed of leaders in the field, had found no meaningful difference between children raised by same-sex and heterosexual couples, based on a 2002 report written largely by a Boston pediatrician, Dr. Ellen C. Perrin.

But Bush's statement was celebrated at a tiny think tank called the Family Research Institute, where the founder, Dr. Paul Cameron, believes Bush was referring to studies he has published in academic journals that are critical of gays and lesbians as parents. Cameron has published numerous studies with titles such as ''Gay Foster Parents More Apt to Molest' -- a conclusion disputed by many other researchers.

The president's statement was also welcomed at a small organization with an august-sounding name, the American College of Pediatricians. The college, which has a small membership, says on its website that it would be ''dangerously irresponsible' to allow same-sex couples to adopt children. The college was formed just three years ago, after the 75-year-old American Academy of Pediatrics issued its paper.

That pediatric study asserted a ''considerable body of professional evidence' that there is no difference between children of same-sex and heterosexual parents.

The Family Research Institute and the American College of Pediatrics are part of a rapidly growing trend in which small think tanks, researchers, and publicists who are open about their personal beliefs are providing what they portray as medical information on some of the most controversial issues of the day.

Created as counterpoints to large, well-established medical organizations whose work is subject to rigorous review and who assert no political agenda, the tiny think tanks with names often mimicking those of established medical authorities have sought to dispute the notion of a medical consensus on social issues such as gay rights, the right to die, abortion, and birth control.

For example, Cameron's Family Research Institute, with an annual budget of less than $200,000, tries to counter the views of the 150,000-member American Psychological Association, which has an annual budget of $98 million. The tiny American College of Pediatricians has a single employee, yet it has been quoted as a counterpoint to the 60,000-member American Academy of Pediatrics.

Senior Bush aides, asked for the basis of the comment about adoption, now say they are unaware of any studies comparing heterosexual and same-sex adoptions -- by Cameron or by any pediatric association. The president, they say, was probably referring to studies that show children are better off living with both biological parents -- though those studies have nothing to do with adoption by same-sex couples.

But Cameron said that he feels confident that Bush was referring to his work, and that he once briefed two White House aides on his research, which is widely distributed through the Christian Communication Network, a public relations firm run by an antiabortion activist, Gary L. McCullough, who also was the press agent for the parents of Terri Schiavo.
Indeed, a web search found that Cameron's findings had been repeated on a variety of conservative websites and blogs.

The first point to understanding this story, though, is that an interlocking set of mutually-validating information interests are at work in producing and reproducing this "research". An individual creates an "institute" with a funding source and an authoritative name; that helps to legitimize the "research" in the eyes of the media, especially a media so underfunded and, apparently, lazy that it asserts "balance" in a news story by citing this institute in the same breath as large, longstanding, and open-to-scrutiny scientific and acacemic organizations representing the bulk of a profession. Then this institute finds further legitimacy by "publishing" (really, paying for publication of) its findings in supposedly peer-reviewed journals:

Cameron's adoption study, and at least 10 more of his works, appeared in Psychological Reports, a small journal based in Montana, which says its studies are peer-reviewed, although editor Doug Ammons said: ''No reviewer has a veto right." The journal, which typically charges $27.50 per page to print an article, is portrayed by Ammons as a ''scientific manifestation of free speech."

By contrast, the largest professional journals, which are often cited as sources of medical information -- such as Journal of the American Medical Association and the New England Journal of Medicine -- say they will reject an article if any peer reviewer raises serious objections about its methodology. Those journals do not charge for publication.

Anyway, as I said, this story really depressed me until I realized the silver lining: The Boston Globe was publishing a piece bringing these practices to light, and the blogosphere was picking up the story and perhaps giving it legs. Where those legs will take it, I'm not sure. I doubt the story will break on the network evening news tonight. But it may stick in the mind of a documentary film producer, or it may get into the hands of an instructor like myself who can use it as an instructive example and generator of debate in a university course. Journalism is serving its purpose as a check and balance on the truth statements and political manipulations of persons with divisive social agendas -- and in doing so, it will perhaps allow entertainment and education to serve those purposes as well. That gives me hope.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

WI state assembly introduces "student bill of rights" to regulate University information labor

Here's a state legislative proposal which, if enacted, would affect the information labor of an entire state university system -- and which, in its details, reveals both the gross misunderstanding of, and perhaps some disdain for, those who make their careers performing research and teaching service to the state.

Wisconsin State Rep. Marlin Schneider, D-Wisconsin Rapids has introduced a "Student Bill of Rights" to the Wisconsin State Assembly, co-sponsored by Rep. Rob Kreibich, R-Eau Claire (chair of the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities), according to an article in the LaCrosse Tribune. I'd think this was merely a frivolous publicity stunt if it didn't have the chairperson's cosponsorship. Here are the details of the bill:

- Require an instructor to approve or deny a request to add a course within five days of the request.

- Require the suspension of all parking rules for the week preceding and following each semester.

- Require grades to be submitted no later than 10 days after the final examination for the course.

- Prohibit an instructor from requiring students to purchase or use a textbook the instructor has authored unless student government approves.

- Require the chancellor to revoke tenure of a faculty member or deduct six months' pay for an untenured instructor whose academic advising causes a student to be enrolled at least one semester more than he or she otherwise would have been enrolled.

- Prohibit an instructor from requiring students to complete a course evaluation until after the final examination is given.

- Requires by 2012 that audio or video recordings of all lectures and course sections be made available for downloading on the Internet.

- Require an instructor who adopts the policy of reducing the grades of a student due to illness resulting in absenteeism to state that policy in writing, and permit a student to appeal any decision based on that policy to the appropriate academic dean.

- Require an instructor to excuse the absence of a student whose family member, fiance, or fiancee dies or becomes extremely ill, and to allow a student to take any examination missed because of a funeral of a family member, fiance or fiancee.

- Require an instructor to meet with a parent or guardian who wants to discuss academic performance within a week, as long as the student approves in writing.

- Limit the work day of a medical intern to 16 hours.

- Prohibit the Board of Regents from entering into a contract that grants naming rights to a university arena, playing field or stadium.

- Direct the state Department of Public Instruction, the UW Board of Regents and the Technical College Board to adopt maximum weight standards for textbooks.

Some of these wildly unrelated proposals might sound like "common sense" at first blush. But the idea that the state assembly needs to micromanage such rules and regulations for the whole university system (including the flagship research school UW-Madison, consistently ranked in the top tier of public universities across the nation) is something of an insult. Unlike, say, regulation over privately-owned, non-democratic, secretive, individually-competing capitalist business firms, the state university system is a coordinated, cooperating, open to public scrutiny, and democratically-operating institution. Faculty serve both within departments and within the university as a whole to make policy and evaluate that policy. Paid administrators, lawyers, and human resources specialists balance those faculty decisions with professional, legal, and bureaucratic expertise. If there is anything that legislators Schneider and Kreibich -- or any of their constituents -- would like to object to with regard to the way the university works, they already have a well-functioning mechanism to make those recommendations or air those issues. Why would they choose to ignore all of these sincere information laborers and the self-regulatory structure they have taken such time and effort, over such a long history, to construct? I hope it is not in order to set a legislative precedent, using the Trojan Horse of "common sense" issues like parking, allowing the state assembly to later restrict academic freedom, speech, and research in further "common sense" bills (as is now being attempted in other state legislatures around the nation).

In particular, I must respond to one of the bill's provisions which I have some personal experience with, and which I think represents a gross misunderstanding of the practices and economics of academia. The proposed bill would "Prohibit an instructor from requiring students to purchase or use a textbook the instructor has authored unless student government approves." The assumption here seems to be that faculty who author books (a) make large royalties from these books, and (b) assign these books to their classes only to make a personal profit. Both assumptions are faulty. I have authored one book so far, for which I receive less than a 50 cent royalty per copy. I have never forced my students to purchase this book in one of my classes, but if I did require a seminar of 20 students to purchase the book, I'd make a grand total of ten bucks. I have also co-edited a collected volume of articles, which I did require my students to purchase in one semester. I did this because there was no other appropriate text on the topic available. Indeed, we want to have faculty in our universities who are publishing at the cutting edge of their field, and our students should have the benefit of this work. I receive no royalties for my editorial work on this volume, but the bill would have considered me an "author" of the book and assumed that I was up to no good in assigning it to my students. Writing such misguided and, frankly, insulting provisions into law is wrong. It sends a signal to both current and potential faculty members in Wisconsin that their state does not value their information labor -- that it considers them little better than charlatans, perhaps even criminal.

We should reject this law, and at the same time, we should not be afraid to address the issues it raises within our own internal regulatory structure. Bad policies can easily be changed by good people following proven, democratic procedures. We at the University of Wisconsin System may indeed have a few of the former, but I know we have an abundance of the latter.