New Book:  “Mr. Dickens and His Carol” by Samantha Silva!


Dear Commons Community,

If you are looking for a book to put you into the holiday spirit, I strongly recommend, Mr. Dickens and His Carol, by Samantha Silva. This wonderful little book transports the reader back to London in 1843 and has Dickens flustered and desperate as he tries to write a Christmas novel against an impossible deadline.  Dickens develops writer’s block, his wife and children leave him, he is being hounded by his father and others for handouts, and is at wit’s end when he meets  Eleanor, who becomes his muse.  I won’t say anything more about the plot because it would be unfair to the reader and the way Silva twists and turns her story from chapter to chapter.  For those who know A Christmas Carol either from the book or from the many film editons (the one with Alastair Sim as Scrooge is the best), will find Silva’s novel a joy. 

Here is an excerpt from a review that appeared in goodreads.

“For Charles Dickens, each Christmas has been better than the last. His novels are literary blockbusters, and he is famous on the streets of London, where avid fans sneak up on him to snip off pieces of his hair. He and his wife have five happy children, a sixth on the way, and a home filled with every comfort they could imagine. But when Dickens’ newest book is a flop, the glorious life he has built for himself threatens to collapse around him. His publishers offer an ultimatum: either he writes a Christmas book in a month, or they will call in his debts, and he could lose everything. Grudgingly, he accepts, but with relatives hounding him for loans, his wife and children planning an excessively lavish holiday party, and jealous critics going in for the kill, he is hardly feeling the Christmas spirit. 

Increasingly frazzled and filled with self-doubt, Dickens seeks solace and inspiration in London itself, his great palace of thinking. And on one of his long walks, in a once-beloved square, he meets a young woman in a purple cloak, who might be just the muse he needs. Eleanor Lovejoy and her young son, Timothy, propel Dickens on a Scrooge-like journey through his Christmases past and present—but with time running out, will he find the perfect new story to save him? 

In prose laced with humor, sumptuous Victorian detail, and charming winks to A Christmas Carol, Samantha Silva breathes new life into an adored classic. Perfect for fans of Dickens, for readers of immersive historical fiction, and for anyone looking for a dose of Christmas cheer, Mr. Dickens and His Carol is destined to become a perennial holiday favorite.”

For anyone wanting to take a deeper dive into Dickens, The Morgan Library and Museum on 35 Street and Madison Avenue here in Manhattan has an exhibit, Charles Dickens and the Spirit of Christmas.  You can see among other things, the original manuscript for A Christmas Carol.

God Bless Us.  Every one!


Rick Hamlin Op-Ed: Why I Give on the Subway?

Dear Commons Community,

At this time of the year,  it is appropriate that we think about giving to those who are in need.  Rick Hamlin, the executive editor of Guideposts magazine, has an op-ed in today’s New York Times titled:  Why I give on the Subway?  Below is his piece.  Hamlin gave me something to think about on this Friday before Christmas. 

In the 1950s, as a child growing up in New York City, my family and I did not have a car so we took the subway everyplace.  There were few people begging back then but I do remember that there was an order of nuns who would send its members to sit in some corner of a subway station praying the rosary with a small wicker bowl lined with green felt on the inside.  My mother always gave me a dime to put in the bowl.  I did and I would receive a “God Bless You” from the nun.  It was a good feeling then and as Hamlin suggests it is a good feeling now.



Why I Give on the Subway

Rick Hamlin

It happens to most of us who live in New York City. You’re on the subway scrolling through a dozen emails, and then you hear the guy coming down through the car (and it’s usually a guy). Sometimes he’s walking, sometimes he’s in a wheelchair, navigating between poles and riders’ feet. He’s rattling a cup of change. The words come haltingly, or not: “I hate to bother you, but I need money to get a room tonight,” or a meal or something for the kids because there was a fire or flood or financial disaster.

You’re sure it’s a fiction, but the guy looks so bad or smells so bad that you know there’s something wrong, even if he’s not wearing the wrist band they gave him last time he checked into the emergency room. You would rather keep staring at your phone or your tablet, but you don’t want to become hardhearted. If you’re a Christian, like I am, you remember how Jesus said that when you feed the hungry or clothe the naked, doing it for “the least of these,” you’re doing it for him.

I keep a few singles in a pocket for just such occasions, and I can extract them without exposing the bigger bills in my wallet. “You’re just feeding a drug habit,” a friend of mine says. He’s a 12-step-program veteran, so he should know. “I’m willing to take the risk,” I say. After all, how much dope or drink can you get with a buck?

I usually have an energy bar in my briefcase. That seems a safer alternative. But sometimes it can be pretty insensitive. I remember giving a woman a rock-hard, nut-filled nutrition bar only to notice that she hardly had the teeth to chew it. How generous was that?

I make my paltry donation and generally ask for a name. “Here’s something, Charles.” The response is almost universal, even in a city that prides itself on its skepticism. “God bless you,” the recipients say — convincingly or not.

But is that why I’m doing this? To be blessed? Or is it so that I can go back to my digital devices with some measure of peace, my guilt appeased?

I used to think that this uncomfortable exchange was one of the benefits of living in the city, back when the guy in front of my apartment building always asked for the same thing: “Can you buy me a container of coffee?” I’d grown up in a suburb — the velvet ghetto, our youth pastor called it — where poverty hardly showed. You could pretend that it didn’t exist. You could live in your mythical bubble.

Not in the city. Not even in nice neighborhoods. I commute from one end of Manhattan to the other, and not a day goes by that I don’t meet someone asking for a handout. Some have signs, some have cups, some have credible stories, some have none, but the wants are unavoidable.

There’s no abstraction between us, just the need, the disparity between someone without and someone who is, if not rich, comfortable even by New York standards. I can’t pretend that I don’t have a roof over my head, a job, food in the fridge. I can’t pretend there’s nothing to share, even when, truth be told, I’ve uttered the boldfaced lie, “I don’t have anything.” I should have said, “I don’t have anything for you.”

Not long ago I gave some money to a woman in a wheelchair who was working the morning rush hour on the subway. There was hardly room for her on the train. I wanted to say, “This is really a rotten time to be begging.” Maybe that was the point. She had a captive audience. Evidently it was worth it because she showed up on my ride home that evening. This time I stayed buried in my Kindle.

I won’t lie — this is hard. I’m not sure that many people would say that living in proximity to such undisguised need is good for the soul. Over the years, I’ve used my subway ride for prayer and meditation, carving out some inner space in this underground journey. But the spiritual life requires action as well as contemplation. As St. Francis supposedly said, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” No wonder, as others have observed, that St. Francis is the most loved of saints, and least imitated.

There is a map, produced by Street Smarts NYC, that shows all the different places and times of day you can get a free meal in Manhattan. One day I was talking to a guy named Jose who had asked me for money as he was propped up against an empty storefront on Broadway. I told him about a couple of places not far from him. “You can get a hot meal and some bread and some fruit to take home,” I said.

He smiled at me. Not many teeth. “But I don’t have a home,” he said. I gave him a buck.


New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña Announces Her Retirement!

Dear Commons Community,

New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña has formally announced her plans today to retire effective June 30, 2018. Fariña, now 74, was appointed four years ago to oversee the city’s 1,800 schools and 1.1 million students.  As reported by ABC News:

“Mayor de Blasio described her as an extraordinary talent, wise and someone who made teachers, parents and students feel that they were in good hands.

Fariña reversed many of the policies under the Bloomberg administration such as giving schools annual grades while trying to foster an atmosphere of collaboration instead of competition.

She was not without critics, some of whom said she lacked vision for reform.

“I never joined in this job to be loved or to win a popularity contest,” she said on Thursday. “I came into this job to be respected and to be understood so that people would then be motivated to do what I think is important for the children of New York.”

In a letter to her staff (full copy below), Fariña wrote she “took the job with a firm belief in excellence for every student, in the dignity and joyfulness of the teaching profession, and in the importance of trusting relationships where collaboration is the driving force.”

“She will go down in history not only as one of the longest-serving chancellors in the history of New York City but as one of the most effective chancellors we ever had,” Mayor de Blasio said.”

I agree with everything Mayor de Blasio says and would add that she was a breath of fresh air who inspired educators throughout the City. May she have a long and healthy retirement.


From: Chancellor Carmen Fariña
Sent: Thursday, December 21, 2017 10:48 AM
To: Chancellor Carmen Fariña <>
Subject: Thank youDear Colleagues,

Four years ago, Mayor de Blasio asked me to unretire at age 70 to join his leadership team and become Schools Chancellor.

At every step in my professional and personal life, when asked to take on a new challenge, I’ve always referred back to the poem “To Be of Use[].” The poem begins, “The people I love the best jump into work head first.” For those of us who have a deep commitment to our work – and this is particularly the case for educators – saying no is almost impossible. When faced with a need and work that is meaningful, no matter the difficulty or the sacrifice, we say yes. Together, we produce transformative results.

And so, with great excitement and enthusiasm, I said yes to Mayor de Blasio. I did so because of my faith in the promise of public education to level the playing field, transform lives, and give every child opportunities regardless of their zip code. I took the job with a firm belief in excellence for every student, in the dignity and joyfulness of the teaching profession, and in the importance of trusting relationships where collaboration is the driving force. These are the beliefs that I have built over five decades as a New York City educator, and they have been at the heart of the work we have done together for the past four years.

Today, I want to share with you my plans to retire (again) in the coming months. As I begin to prepare to step down as Chancellor, I want to reflect on our accomplishments and thank you – the incredible New York City educators who have made the work more engaging, meaningful, and joyful. I think of each of you with gratitude as I read this line in “To Be Of Use:” “I want to be with people who submerge in the task.” Submerging in the task with you has been an enormous gift.

Thank you:

  • First and foremost, to our 1.1 million schoolchildren, who deserve hope in your lives, success in and out of the classroom, and a meaningful future. You are the reason we strive every day to be of use.
  • To our superintendents and your teams, who rise to the occasion to support principals and cultivate success. You never hesitate when called upon, and your leadership provides direction for our shared work.
  • To our principals and your teams, who understand that a good night’s sleep only comes when there is a strong teacher in every classroom and that collaboration brings about positive results. Your days are long, your sacrifice immense, and your reward indescribable.
  • To our teachers, who know that public education changes lives. You work tirelessly for every student and family, and infuse the excitement of learning in every classroom and school.
  • To our families, who are our children’s first teachers. Only by continuing to work together can we help ensure our children reach their full potential. I have total admiration for the sacrifices you make – as newly arrived immigrants, single parents, families juggling multiple jobs, or even adults trying to communicate with students at the most difficult age group, teenagers. With your partnership, we have redoubled our family engagement – and listening to your concerns is what constantly makes us better.
  • To our custodians and facilities experts, who make each building welcoming, joyful and safe. Your commitment is deeply valued, and your dedication makes a difference for our students, our staff, and our families.
  • To the administrative support teams, who make the impossible seem easy. Your work to make every school day smooth and ensure every question is answered and every need met sets an example of service for us all.
  • To the school safety agents and school monitors, who know that relationships are at the core of what we do for our children. You set the tone for each student, parent, and guest who visits our schools.
  • To the co-located campuses, and everyone in our school system working to break down silos. You are proving that collaboration works better than competition, and that by working together we can achieve more than any one of us could accomplish alone.
  • To our teams across the DOE, who work every day to make a difference. Sometimes you impact thousands of lives, sometimes hundreds, and some days, just one. But each day, you make a difference in the life of a child, and in that, you are changing the course of history.

Thank you all for the hard work you’ve done, and that you’ll continue to do. You jump into work, you submerge in the task.

It has been the greatest honor to serve as your Chancellor and I look forward to our shared work ahead.





The Chronicle of Higher Education Examines the Charles Koch Foundation!

Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article today on the Charles Koch Foundation and its higher education grant programs.   Formed in 1980, the Foundation last year awarded $77 million, including $50 million in grants to 249 colleges.  Some of the Foundation’s operations have been controversial in terms of the nature of the stipulations of its grants.  As a result, a number of colleges and universities have declined grants from Koch.  A website, UnKoch My Campus, has been created that monitors the Foundation’s activities.   Here is an excerpt from The Chronicle article:

“Increasingly the Koch Foundation’s college grants have supported the creation of on-campus academic centers focused on a particular topic. Often that topic involves economics, and often a faculty member seen as sympathetic to Mr. Koch’s vision directs research topics and the selection of faculty and students.

The Foundation’s latest annual filing shows its giving remains robust, especially among more renowned institutions like Harvard and MIT. According to an analysis of the Foundation’s latest annual financial disclosures by UnKoch My Campus, a watchdog group that opposes the Foundation’s campus inroads, the $50 million represents a 49-percent jump from 2015, when the Charles Koch Foundation gave out $34 million in grants. The 249 campuses at which anyone at the institution has received some money represent another record high, up from 222 in 2015, according to the group.

The reputational heft of that list keeps improving. After a period of concentrating its biggest gifts among mostly smaller regional institutions, the Koch Foundation’s top partners — those getting at least $100,000 a year — now include the likes of Purdue, the University of Notre Dame, Harvard, Brown, New York, and Georgetown Universities, the University of Pennsylvania, Ohio State, the University of North Carolina, Stanford, the University of Michigan, Duke, UCLA, the University of Chicago and MIT.

On the other hand, resistance has coalesced on many campuses, especially after faculty members from several universities were recorded at a conference last year enthusiastically acknowledging the political power that Koch Foundation money has given them at their institutions. The Foundation ended the year adding only 44 first-time campuses, falling below the average gain of the previous five years for the second straight time. And with 69 campuses dropping off Koch’s list in 2016, it was also the second straight year in which the Foundation lost more campuses than it added.

The declines suggest that some campus efforts to oppose Koch money have borne fruit, said Ralph Wilson, one of the founders of UnKoch My Campus, which secretly recorded the faculty statements at conference sessions and has now compiled summaries of the latest Koch Foundation donor data. Yet over all, Mr. Wilson said, the shifts in Koch’s donor patterns — including its growing inroads among elite institutions — more likely indicates that the Foundation has evolved and adapted, even as opposition toughens on some campuses.

“It makes sense that Koch is expanding on prestigious beachhead campuses to legitimize their programs,” Mr. Wilson said. “But the more that faculty know about Koch’s contracts and strategy, the more they are trying to resist its influence.”

A spokeswoman for the Koch Foundation, however, cautioned against making too much of the Foundation’s list of 2016 grant recipients, as Koch works with “schools of all types and sizes.” The spokeswoman, Trice Jacobson, said that absences of funding for any particular campus in any given year can be temporary, not indicative of a broader strategy. “The shifts in calendar-year giving are part of the natural academic giving cycle,” she said. “Our vision is to support any school that has exciting opportunities for professors and students.”

Mr. Koch and his brother, David H. Koch, own Koch Industries, which operates oil refineries and pipelines and owns an assortment of consumer-goods producers. They’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars on political campaigns to advance the interests of the fossil-fuel industry, challenge the science of climate change, and promote smaller government and fewer regulations of all types. They are a guiding force behind Donors Trust, a fund that lets allies anonymously make and coordinate large political donations, and — according to Mr. Wilson’s group — is itself now getting more involved in funding universities.

At the same time, the Kochs extensively finance medical research and the arts, and they promote some political positions that transcend conservative politics or are typically associated with the political left. Those include criminal-justice reform — the Kochs have emphasized high incarceration rates among lower-income youth as a problem — and opposition to U.S. involvement in overseas conflicts.

And while the Foundation clearly courts conservative academics and students, it does not support them exclusively. “I would rely on the scholars to determine best what issues they’re going to pursue, what research they’re going to do, and what they’re going to do with that research,” John C. Hardin, the Foundation’s director of university relations, told The Chronicle last year. “Our place is just to provide the funding so that they’re able to do it.”

Grant recipients are judged, generally, by whether they reach a goal they set, such as numbers of students enrolling in a class or attending a speech, or the number of research publications tied to a grant, Mr. Hardin said. “We do not read the work, typically, that they have produced,” he said. “We might in some cases, but that’s not a standard practice of any kind.”

Interesting article that provides a balanced perspective on the Koch Foundation while alerting the reader to beware.



New Media Consortium Suddenly Ceases Operations!

Dear Commons Community,

On Monday, the New Media Consortium announced in an email that it will cease operations immediately. The e-mail stated:

“The New Media Consortium (NMC) regrets to announce that because of apparent errors and omissions by its former Controller and Chief Financial Officer, the organization finds itself insolvent. Consequently, NMC must cease operations immediately.

“NMC would like to sincerely thank our loyal and dedicated community for its many vital contributions since its inception in 1994. NMC is grateful to its current executive director and NMC staff for their tireless efforts to connect people at the intersection of innovation and technology.”

As reported by Campus Technology:

“The higher education community is reeling from the news, which has spread quickly on social media. “I am heartbroken and gobsmacked,” consultant, futurist and frequent NMC contributor Bryan Alexander told Campus Technology. “The news comes as a terrible shock. My heart goes out to the fine NMC staff, who don’t deserve this. Instead they deserve being snapped up by smart employers, stat. I also rue the blow to the community of splendid innovators that gathered around NMC since the 1990s. Can we use our imagination and technology to build something new in the NMC’s ruins?”

NMC is perhaps best known for its Horizon Project, an initiative that analyzes emerging education technologies, forecasts their impact in the short, medium and long term, and compiles the information in an annual Horizon Report.

According to the announcement, NMC will file for chapter 7 bankruptcy and a trustee will wind down its financial affairs, liquidate its assets and distribute the proceeds to creditors.”

This is a sad ending for an organization that has been providing valuable information and insight on technology and higher education since the early 1990s. As one of my colleagues here at CUNY commented there has got to be more to this story.



New Babson College Survey Research Group Report: OER Growing Albeit Slowly!

Dear Commons Community,

The Babson College Survey Research Group released a new report (Opening the Textbook: Educational Resources in U.S. Higher Education, 2017 indicating that the number of faculty replacing the traditional textbook with an openly licensed one (OER) is increasing.  As reported at the Babson College Survey website.

“Responses from over 2,700 U.S. faculty paint both a “Good news” and a “Bad news” picture for the role of open educational resources (OER) in U.S. higher education. The levels of awareness of OER, the licensing tied to it, and overall adoption of OER materials, remains low. Only 10% of faculty reported that they were “Very aware” of open educational resources, with 20% saying that they were “Aware.” Faculty continue to report significant barriers to OER adoption. The most serious issues continue to be the effort needed to find and evaluate suitable material.

There is also considerable cause for optimism among those who support OER. The awareness and adoption levels may be low, but they also show steady year-to-year improvements. OER also addresses a key concern of many faculty: the cost of materials.”

An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education commented that:

“Opening the Textbook: Educational Resources in U.S. Higher Education, 2017… is the third such survey produced by the Babson Survey Research Group in recent years.

Over that time the share of faculty members adopting open-licensed textbooks rose from 5 percent in 2015 to 9 percent today, with a higher rate of use in large introductory-level classes. Familiarity with openly licensed materials is also growing: About 30 percent of respondents said they were aware or very aware of open educational resources. And nearly 90 percent of faculty members said that cost to the student was a key factor in how they select required course material.

Jeff Seaman, co-director of the group and co-author of the report, describes the findings as “one of those glass half-empty, half-full kind of things.” On the one hand, it’s clear that open educational resources are here to stay. The conversation, he says, has shifted from “what is this?” to “how do we make this sustainable?” The problem, he says, is that people haven’t yet figured that out.

About half of the faculty members surveyed, for example, said that there are not enough open educational resources for their subject and that it is difficult to find what they need. About 30 percent said they have concerns about quality and about how to update the material.”

The growth in OER will continue in the coming years.  Given the costs of higher education, colleges and universities will encourage savings in all of its operations including textbooks.  Congratulations to our colleague, Jeff Seaman, for this report and for continuing to provide insights into the use of online technology for instruction.



New York City DOE to Close or Merge 14 Renewal Schools!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York City Department of Education (DOE) announced yesterday that it would close or merge fourteen underperforming schools in its Renewal Program for low performing schools..  Some are saying that this is an indication that the DOE is ending its Renewal Program.  As reported in the New York Times:

“… New York City’s Education Department on Monday gave its first indication that it is planning to wind down its Renewal Program for low-performing schools, an expensive initiative that has struggled to show results.

The department said it intends to close or merge 14 schools in the program, while moving 21 other schools, which have shown progress, out of the program. Coming after smaller rounds of closings and mergers, the changes will leave 46 schools in the program, less than half the number at its inception three years ago.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the program in November 2014, pledging to flood the city’s lowest-performing schools with support, to lift the performance of struggling schools where the previous administration preferred to shut them down and replace them. Renewal is budgeted to have cost a total of $582 million  by the end of this academic year, and there is scant evidence that the schools have made significant improvement.

At a news conference at the Education Department’s headquarters in the Tweed Courthouse on Monday, the schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, said that the 46 schools would receive support and oversight for the rest of this school year and that she expected that most of them would improve sufficiently to graduate from the program in that time.

Notably, the department did not add any schools to the program. Asked why, Ms. Fariña said it was unnecessary to add schools because many schools that might be eligible were already being helped by other initiatives, including an increase in literacy coaches and 3-K, the city’s new prekindergarten program for 3-year-olds.

Ms. Fariña denied that the city was ending the Renewal program or had concluded that it was not cost-effective.

“This is a constant review process,” she said, adding, “We’re not giving up on it at all.”

In any case, parents appear to be avoiding schools in the program. Enrollment at 52 Renewal schools fell by at least 10 percent from the 2014-15 school year to the 2016-17 school year. Only six schools saw their enrollment increase by at least 10 percent during that time.

Many of the schools the city plans to close have seen their enrollment fall, even precipitously. The Coalition School for Social Change, for example, had 311 students in the 2013-14 school year and 161 students during the last school year. Such a small population can make it difficult for principals to create a workable budget, because schools are funded in part by how many students they have.

In total, the department is planning to close nine Renewal schools, while another five will be combined with other schools. When he announced the program, Mr. de Blasio said that schools would have to make progress within three years, and that if they did not, they could be shuttered.

The department said on Monday that it also planned to close five schools that are not in the Renewal program, a decision Ms. Fariña suggested was largely based on enrollment.’

It appears that Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Fariña are making administrative and structural adjustments to the Renewal Program rather than ending it altogether.


Charles Blow on Omarosa’s Departure from the White House!

Dear Commons Community,

New York Times columnist, Charles Blow, had a no holds barred piece on Omarosa Manigault Newman who was ousted last week as Director of Communications for the White House Office of Public Liaison.  Blow skewers Omarosa as “odious…a fame junkie…and check casher.”  Here is an excerpt:

“Omarosa. One name is all you need. Madame is mononymous, and for all the wrong reasons: not fame, but infamy.

Her full name is Omarosa Manigault Newman, if you must know. Her claim to fame prior to latching herself onto the Trump campaign was being on Donald Trump’s reality show and being fired by him.

Now, she is in the headlines for again parting ways with the man who made her.

According to reports, she was fired by Chief of Staff John Kelly at a Christmas party and forcibly removed from the building. According to her, she gracefully resigned. As is always the case with this White House, somebody is lying.

But whatever the true nature of her departure, it is important to understand why few will mourn it.

Omarosa is odious, on purpose, as a strategic act of persona shaping and career building. It is part performance and part personal defect. The publisher’s summary on Omarosa’s own book, “The Bitch Switch: Knowing How to Turn It On and Off,” labeled her “the primetime villainess you love to hate.”

She is a fame junkie and check chaser, a devourer of any and all who stand between her and that which she craves.

She made her mark with an acerbic tongue, sharp elbows and a survive-at-all-costs scheming, and by being, as she wrote in her book, a cat who could “be just as aggressive as any breed of dog (i.e., our male counterparts).” She was modeling the worst of men. She was modeling the essence of Trump himself: mean, bullying, self-interested, self-aggrandizing and rapacious.

And often, the focus of her scorn and venom were other black people. This made it all the more shocking when she became the “director of African-American outreach” for the Trump campaign.”

In sum, according to Blow, Omarosa was persona non grata in the black community who did little for anyone but herself.


Law Professor Puts Ethnography on Trial in New Book!

Dear Commons Community,

Ethnography research, one of the more popular research methodologies in the social sciences especially anthropology, is the subject of a new book by Stephen Lubet  entitled, Interrogating Ethnography: Why Evidence Matters (Oxford University Press). Lubet, a law professor at Northwestern University, concludes that ethnography suffers from an accuracy problem, one that scholars in the field have largely overlooked. Essentially he writes that ethnography should adopt methods for dealing with evidence that more closely resemble those practiced in other fields, like law and journalism.  Here is an excerpt from a review of this book that appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

“ Mr. Lubet — a self-described fan of ethnography — also found many assertions that were “dubious, exaggerated, tendentious, or just plain wrong.”

The problem, as Mr. Lubet sees it, is ethnographers’ inconsistent approach to reporting and documenting facts. Often, he says in an interview, they state as fact what is really “hearsay”: something they heard, rather than observed. He argues that ethnography should adopt methods for dealing with evidence that more closely resemble those practiced in other fields, like law and journalism.

“When a fact is stated in a newspaper, if it was told to the reporter by somebody, it’s presented that way,” Mr. Lubet says. “If it’s something the reporter saw, it’s presented that way. If it comes from a document, it’s presented that way. And, in ethnography, those three were often confused — or not drawn precisely.

Mr. Lubet’s book has touched off a debate about what ethnographers might learn from legal scholars, and vice versa.

“Tone deaf” is how John Van Maanen, an organizations ethnographer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, describes Mr. Lubet’s writing.

“If ethnography was concerned only with verification and, quote, facts, it would be a kind of dismal endeavor,” he says. “We wouldn’t get the narrative. We wouldn’t get the story. We wouldn’t get the feel for the culture that is being explored. And to think about ethnography as just seeking out facts is sort of missing the point.”

But another ethnographer, Colin Jerolmack of New York University, finds much of Mr. Lubet’s book compelling. He cringed reading the book’s accounts of ethnographers who reported their informants’ stories as facts, without much effort at verification.

“When you just go through hundreds of pages, with dozens of examples of it, in well-regarded ethnographies, it makes it hard for me to just say, ‘Oh, well, those are the few outliers who aren’t really careful,’” says Mr. Jerolmack, who joined a prominent cast of scholars at Northwestern for a symposium on Mr. Lubet’s book in October.”

This book should be of interest to ethnographers and other researchers.  Fact verification is not the only purpose of social science research but it does play an important role.  Researchers employing any type of qualitative or quantitative method should do their best to state as true that which can be verified.  That which cannot be verified should be presented as opinions or assertions that subjects believe to be true.


The Chronicle of Higher Education: College Tuition Database!

Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education is again making available a sortable and searchable database that shows the “sticker prices” — published tuition and required fees — at more than 3,000 colleges and universities for the 2017-18 academic year, with historical data back to 1998. For instance, if you search for many of the top-tier private universities, the average tuition with room and board for 2017-2018 is in the $65,000. range.   For four-year public institutions, tuition is much lower.  The CUNY senior colleges are in the $7,000. yearly tuition range without room and board.  The database also allows for accessing data back to 1998.  Graphs as the one above are available for all of the colleges.

A useful resource for prospective students, parents, and researchers.