Monday, September 20, 2004

Just a few items from the September 2004 Ann Arbor Observer magazine:

One of the major articles, entitled "Borders Grows Up," reviews the recent ups-and-downs of the now 33-year-old icon of Ann Arbor bookselling. As virtually anyone reading this blog would know, Borders was founded (and located exclusively for many years) in Ann Arbor. In the mid-80s, Borders expanded, initially to some Detroit suburbs and then nationally. The article delves into issues such as competition with Barnes and Noble, competition from internet sales, and the healing process from last year's strike at the flagship Ann Arbor store.

Historically, Borders did a lot to cultivate a cerebral image, most notably making its workers pass a test (which, according to the recent Observer article, was "dropped years ago"). George Will wrote the following in a 1991 Washington Post article:

"Reading the torrent of essays about the end of reading, and the glut of books about the death of the book, leaves little time for savoring the significance of Borders bookstores, which are flourishing.

There are 14 of them so far. The first was in Ann Arbor, Mich. The one here in Rockville [Maryland] is typical. It has more than 100,000 titles, 1.3 million volumes and a staff who when asked `Where is `Billy Budd'?' will not reply, `He doesn't work here.'

No one works here who cannot pass a quiz featuring questions like, `In what subject areas would you look for books by or about Jean Piaget, Gustav Klimt, Dorothy Sayers, Karen Horney, Ludwig Wittgenstein'? `Who wrote `Tin Drum'? `Native Son'? `Where the Wild Things Are'?' Non-readers need not apply at Borders, which unlike lots of supposed bookstores sells neither games nor globes nor garden hoses.. . .

A better way of doing business in books began 20 years ago with the Border [sic, it should be Borders] brothers, University of Michigan graduate students, Tom, an English major, and Lewis, a computer wiz. Their idea was to use modern information systems to make possible, meaning profitable, small-volume purchases of many titles rather than large-volume purchases of titles that will sell at a high velocity."

I love that "Billy Budd" quote and am glad to be able to have found a reference to it on the web. Many parts of Will's article are obviously dated, including the test and the number of stores. Heck, today's Borders stores in the L.A. and Chicago areas alone might come close to numbering 14 (those are where I do most of my Borders visiting; my current home of Lubbock, Texas doesn't have one). I also, of course, love to visit the Ann Arbor flagship store, but I haven't been back since 2002.

The Observer article also provides an update on the Borders brothers: Tom now lives in Austin, Texas, and Louis is in Silicon Valley.

One quote in the Observer article really hits the nail on the head, in my view, regarding why Borders has been so successful:

"The saving factor for Borders, [its CEO] says, was that people still like to come to bookstores to browse."
. . .
In my May 14 entry on this blog (May archives), I wrote about Ann Arbor's jazz scene, including a mention of the Bird of Paradise club. We learn from the September 2004 Observer that, after 20 years, "The Bird" is no more, a casualty of financial difficulties. Here's an article on the club's farewell from the Ann Arbor News.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Jennifer Lerner, a Michigan undergraduate in the late 1980s and now a professor at Carnegie-Mellon University, has won an early career award from the National Science Foundation. Back in the 1980s (and perhaps still today) the introductory social psychology course for undergrads was taught as a huge lecture by a professor, with probably around 300 students. Each undergraduate student would also attend a weekly one-hour discussion section of around 25 students, led by a graduate-student Teaching Assistant (TA). Jennifer was in the section I led. I got to know her pretty well then, and have stayed in touch with her over the years.

Also, as featured in my June 5 write-up on this blog (June archives), Jennifer, like me, is a "Bru-verine" (someone with ties to both UCLA -- the Bruins -- and Michigan -- the Wolverines). After completing her Ph.D. at UC Berkeley (during which time I only rarely saw her, at conventions), she did a health psychology post doc at UCLA. Given that I regularly visit UCLA on my trips back to L.A. to visit family, I was able to visit with Jennifer every few months in Franz Hall.

Congratulations to Jennifer!

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Twenty years ago, almost to this exact day, the other members of my cohort and I began classes at the University of Michigan as new graduate students. The incoming social psychology grad-student cohort in Fall 1984 included Monica Biernat, Rick Blake, Steve Bright, Greg Diamond, Eaaron Henderson-King, Ann Ruvolo, Judy Shapiro, and myself. Bob Josephs (for whom 1984 was the start of his overall graduate-school career) came over with his advisor Claude Steele from the University of Washington in Fall 1987, but became part of our cohort (Claude later moved on from Michigan to Stanford).

Monica received the American Psychological Association's Distinguished Scientific Early Career Contributions to Psychology Award in social psychology in 1999 (news release from her current university). She wrote about our cohort in her award statement, published in the November 1999 American Psychologist (based on this article, Monica had a particular fondness for cohort-mates who loaned her their cars!). In all seriousness, our cohort was pretty tight the whole 5-6 years people were there, but extremely tight the first year or two (people joked that all eight of us even crossed the street together). Just within the first week or two of arriving, I recall, we all went together on a Saturday morning for apple cider in one of the neighboring towns (I think it was Dexter) and also played ultimate frisbee on that outing.

As is virtually inevitable, however, as we no longer were taking classes together and people were spending more time with spouses and partners or other interests, we drifted apart somewhat during our later years at Michigan. Also, based on research interests and personal hobbies, each of us in our cohort developed ties to students in other cohorts, thus diluting the intra-cohort ties. That's not to say that all the bonds within the '84 entering cohort have diminished. I would say I have maintained very close ties to a couple of people in the cohort, more moderately intense ties to others, and have lost touch completely with others. Talking to others in the cohort, this distribution seems fairly typical.

What I thought it would be fun to do was look at the current UM graduate psychology course list and compare the versions of the courses my cohort took in Fall '84 to the current versions of the same courses. To preview my findings (shown below), the course numbers are entirely the same, the instructors are all different (virtually a given, since many professors from '84 have either moved to other universities, retired, or passed away), and the content/format of some courses has changed somewhat. First-year social psych students took the following courses in Fall '84...

Psych 600, Psychology Graduate Proseminar. New students in all areas of psychology -- not just social -- took this course during their entire first year (Psych 601 was the second semester). In '84, a different UM psychology faculty member would come in to lecture each week on his/her respective research area. Faculty speakers were clustered in sequence around larger themes (i.e., a few weeks of biopsych, a few weeks of cognitive development, a few weeks of social). Faculty speakers each assigned a set of readings, with the course providing for discussion of the readings and integrative writing assignments. The purpose was clearly to present the breadth of psychology to students in all of the department's programs. Breadth is apparently still an important goal today, but it is accomplished differently. According to the current 600 description:

"This course is a graduate-level overview of psychology with special attention to its coverage of (a) biological; (b) affective/cognitive, (c) developmental, and (d) social/organizational aspects of behavior... Students will do background readings in each of the four areas on focus [sic], and for each area, attend at least three department- or campus-wide lectures of their choice in which current research is presented... Upon completion of the relevant readings and attendance at the lectures for an area, each student will write a reaction paper... that integrates and responds to the relevant readings and lectures attended."

The description also alludes to some live meetings/discussion between the coordinator and students, but it seems this course is now more individually paced. It is also credit/noncredit, which I don't think was true 20 years ago. In Fall '84, the faculty coordinators were Hazel Markus (now at Stanford) and Bill Stebbins. Currently, the coordinator is Chris Peterson. Chris was on my dissertation committee in '89. For the last 20 years or so a clinical/personality researcher, Chris was actually a social psych Ph.D. (University of Colorado).

Psych 613, Statistics. This class also was for all new psychology students for the full year (614 was the second semester). Back in '84, we had Keith Smith, who passed away a couple years ago (click here and then scroll down for obituary). I plan to do a future entry specifically on Keith. For now, though, I'll just say that the current 613-614 sequence, taught by Kai Schnabel Cortina (who apparently arrived at UM in the late 90s), seems to represent a compression of the old stat courses. Multivariate techniques now appear to be incorporated into 613-614, whereas students of my era had to wait until their third semester to take a separate multivariate analysis course.

Psych 681, Orientation to Social Psychology (now known as Survey of Social Psychology). This was not a "class" in the traditional sense, but rather a forum for first-year social students to receive socialization into the program and field. James Jackson, then the social psych program director, led this workshop. Some of the main activities included helping us along on our first-year projects and having speakers from the social psych faculty. One or two students would invite each speaker and have a preparatory meeting with him/her to discuss the faculty member's presentation to the 681 group. The current version is led by Norbert Schwarz, who arrived at UM in '93. Both my old syllabus (which I've saved, along with my notebooks) and the current desciption list 681 as a three-semester sequence. In all honesty, all I remember is the first semester; perhaps we mainly worked independently later on.

Psych 682, Advanced Social Psychology. This course provided a pretty intensive introduction to our subject matter, with a lot of classic stuff (e.g., Sherif, Asch, Lewin, Festinger). In Fall '84, it was taught by Hazel Markus, who was also mentioned above. The current version is taught by Rich Gonzalez. As I've noted in previous entries to this blog, I first met Rich when he was visiting UM as a prospective grad student and now he's the department chair!

Those were the days!