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ISSUE 119 VOL 11 PUBLISHED 2/24/2006

Letter to the Editor

By Letter to the Editor
Contributing Writer

Friday, February 24, 2006

I appreciated your article ("Survey Gauges Job Satisfaction, Political Views") regarding the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) survey of St. Olaf faculty in the Dec. 21 Manitou Messenger. There were some errors that show, however, how carefully statistics must be read, and how carefully words should be chosen to describe the data.

According to the article, some findings would not be obvious to students, “who might be interested to know that 87.9 percent of respondents have been divorced, while 82.2 percent are currently married.”

There are, of course, valid reasons for getting divorced. But if 87.9 percent of any population had been divorced, one would suspect that many had had very bad luck or had exercised very poor judgment in their personal lives. This figure immediately seemed to me not only implausible, but unbelievable.

If you look more closely at the data, you find 157 faculty members responded to the survey, and of these, only 33 indicated that they had been divorced, widowed, or separated. Of those responding to that question, 87.9 percent had been divorced. The 134 of us who did not answer that question presumably have never been divorced, widowed, or separated. So the data shows that about 21 percent of the faculty, not 87.9 percent, has been divorced.

The article states that a majority of the staff was hired between 2002 and 2004. This is in error. In fact, the largest cohort of the staff – a plurality of 17.8 percent, not a majority – was hired in this time period. The survey was conducted in 2004. St. Olaf often replaces faculty on sabbatical leave with one-year replacement appointments, so there are always a significant number of recently hired faculty.

Finally, one must be careful in making generalizations about political views of faculty members. Most professors, according to the survey, identify themselves as liberal. But according to the article, a "moderate political position was the second highest affiliation," comprising only 17.8 percent of the faculty. The term used in the survey is actually "middle of the road," not moderate. The two terms are not synonymous. The article implies that 82.2 percent of the faculty, including all liberals and conservatives, are immoderate. A few professors may be immoderate. Most, I think, are not, and none of us like to think we are.

Robert Entenmann Professor of History and of Asian Studies

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