Friday, July 14, 2006

public sociology triumph!

After standing around and complaining how the mass media never pays it any attention, sociology is featured in an extensive story in today's New York Times! The lede:
A graphic popped up on James Gundlach’s television during an Auburn football game in the fall of 2004, and he could not believe his eyes.

One of the university’s prominent football players was being honored as a scholar athlete for his work as a sociology major. Professor Gundlach, the director of the Auburn sociology department, had never had the player in class. He asked the two other full-time sociology professors about the player, and they could not recall having had him either.

So Professor Gundlach looked at the player’s academic files, which led him to the discovery that many Auburn athletes were receiving high grades from the same professor for sociology and criminology courses that required no attendance and little work.
The professor in question, Thomas Petee, is reported as having directed 272 independent study courses for students in 2004-5 alone. The story also features the following example:
The academic journey of the former Auburn defensive end Doug Langenfeld illustrates how Professor Petee and the athletic department helped athletes remain eligible.

When Mr. Langenfeld arrived at Auburn in 2003 from a junior college in California, he wanted to major in nursing. To do so would have required him to take a heavy load of 21 credits his first semester. Instead, he said, Mr. Starks suggested he major in sociology. Mr. Langenfeld asked for advice from Mr. Williams, who claimed that the major was “easy if you studied.”

In the fall of 2004, Mr. Langenfeld found himself in an academic bind. More than two months into the fall semester, he realized that he had been attending the wrong class because of a scheduling error...

Mr. Langenfeld then went to his academic counselor in the athletic department, Brett Wohlers, with a plea: “I got dropped from a class and need a class to stay eligible for the bowl game,” Mr. Langenfeld recalled in a recent telephone interview...

He said Mr. Wohlers told him about a “one-assignment class” that other players had taken and enjoyed. So in the “9th or 10th week,” Mr. Langenfeld said, he picked up a directed-reading course with Professor Petee. Semesters typically run 15 weeks.

Mr. Langenfeld said he had to read one book, but he could not recall the title. He said he was required to hand in a 10-page paper on the book...

“I got a B in the class,” said Mr. Langenfeld, who started in the Sugar Bowl against Virginia Tech. “That was a good choice for me.”
To be honest, I cannot even bear to offer any commentary--snarky, defensive, or otherwise--on this. Besides, I want to just focus on and be positive about my own work and the work that I find interesting, and, well, not contemplate the status or direction of sociology as a whole. Besides, the open secret that I didn't appreciate when I got into this business is that, at many (most? virtually all?) places, sociology counts on lazy, lost, last-resort-looking and otherwise low-achieving students as an important source of revenue--which isn't to say we don't strive hard to lure bright students as well, as long as they aren't too politically conservative--and that's a kind of systematic bargain that in the aggregate makes abuse and publicized incidents like this every once in awhile inevitable.


brady said...

Uh...war eagle?

Anonymous said...

Auburn's response: make Petee the Chair!!!

Hazy Dave said...

As a run-on sentence aficionado, I just want to say that I was extremely impressed with the last sentence of this blog entry.