Kitsune #4

The Ronin Institute for Independent Scholarship
Issue #4 August 2016

Here’s the latest issue of Kitsune, delivered straight to your inbox for your reading pleasure! As always, you can find previous issues on the Ronin Institute website. If you would like to be added to the mailing list, just send us an e-mail at, and we’ll add you.

To the updates.

Scientiam Consecemus!

In this Issue

Ronin Institute Conference Scholarships | The Roninterview: Evelyn Ch’ien

Ronin on Social Media | Reading About Adjuncts | Publications | About

Ronin Institute Conference and Research Scholarships

This spring, the Ronin Institute Board authorized the first two rounds of scholarship funding to help support travel to academic conferences and to help cover other research travel expenses. We were very pleased to be able to provide financial support to nine Research Scholars. We offer a heartfelt congratulations to John Laurence Busch (History of Technology), Michael Clarage (Astrophysics), Michelle Coughlin (Early American History), Ruth Duerr (Data Management), Marios Kyriazis (Aging), Kristina Markman (Medieval History), Vicenta Salvador (Evolutionary Biology), Michael Walker (Archaeology), and Eleanor Wynn (Anthropology).

Our scholarship program is aimed primarily at conference participation, because an academic conference is where you learn about the latest developments in your field — often months or even years before those developments get published. It is where you can share your own latest work with a community of people who can both appreciate what you’ve done and provide you with valuable feedback. It is where you reconnect with old colleagues and where you discover future collaborations. In short, conference attendance is a critical activity for anyone engaged in scholarship, and a necessary component of any academic career.

Conferences are doubly important for independent and non-traditional scholars, who are not embedded in a university department, and who don’t have contact with other scholars in their field on a day-to-day basis. Unfortunately, conference attendance can be particularly challenging for the independent scholar, who is often faced with having to pay for registration fees and travel expenses out of their own pocket.

This situation convinced us that supporting conference participation is one of the places where our dollars can have the greatest impact, and we are committed to continuing — and even expanding — this program going forward. To support the next round of scholarships, we are launching a campaign to raise another $3000. The board members have committed to contributing $1000 if we are able to reach the $3000 mark before the end of 2016.

So please join us and make a contribution to the conference scholarship fund. You can donate online by visiting our website, or go straight to our JustGive page. Direct your donation by selecting the Conference Scholarships option under “Program”. Or, you can give by check made out to the Ronin Institute and mailed to Ronin Institute, 127 Haddon Pl, Montclair, NJ 07043. Indicate “Conference Scholarships” on the memo line.

The Roninterview: Evelyn Ch’ien

Welcome to the first installment of a new feature, where you’ll have the opportunity to learn a bit more about some of the Research Scholars who are working to build a new model of academic scholarship. First up is Evelyn Ch’ien.

Kitsune: You had a tenured position at the University of Minnesota, but you left that job to become an independent scholar. Why?

EC: My choice arose from a combination of needing to be in a different environment geographically and of wanting to drastically change the direction of my research with the kind of speed that would defy bureaucratic tolerance. Minnesota has an amazing department, and the resources and support are copious, so it wasn’t the particular environment, but the university network as a whole that I felt a need to detach myself from for a while.

Kitsune: How has being independent affected your research? What has become harder? Easier?

EC: It’s simply easier to think and do what I like in terms of reading and writing, while access to certain materials and some of the social capital in academic networks is less serendipitously obtained.

Kitsune: How has being independent affected the types of questions you ask in your research?

EC: I’m experiencing a whole new level of accountability. I feel more like an artist, less like a critic. I’m not just answering questions, but being answerable to my own standards of what’s worth researching. I approached academic pursuits with this attitude, but it was often interrupted by administrative responsibilities or questions about whether what I was doing was publishable.

Kitsune: What do you miss most about being at a university? What do you miss least?

EC: What I miss: Interesting people that just knocked on your door several times a day. What I don’t miss: Committees.

Kitsune: You successfully raised the funds for publication of a book of more than 600 poems by Liao Entao, a Chinese diplomat and prominent figure in both the 1911 revolution and the Republican government of Sun Yat Sen. Why did you take on that project?

EC: It’s original work, the insight of the poems is moving and historically important, and it has personal resonance for me as Liao Entao is my great-grandfather. I met a terrific co-editor, Puk Wing Kin, who had already done work on Liao. Liao Entao was a hilarious, zany writer as well as a unique case of longevity and cosmopolitan experience during the Republican period. His voice is valuable for history but also he’s also very entertaining.

Kitsune: In the course of putting that book together, were there any surprises? New perspectives on historical events?

EC: Liao Entao’s irreverence to government inauthenticity was quite illuminating. On the editing side, we lost an annotator who passed away during the project.

Kitsune: Did the fact that Liao Entao is a relative of yours affect the way that you approached the project?

EC: Yes: you’re accountable to the family if you get it wrong. That can be scarier than academic colleagues.

Kitsune: When you were still at the University of Minnesota, you published a book called Weird English and taught courses in hip-hop composition. How do those topics relate to the work you’ve done as an independent scholar?

EC: I’ve always sustained an interest in the evolution of language (macro- and micro-). Hip hop is an extension of poetry and street language. Liao was often writing street vernacular to communicate local ambience.

Kitsune: What is the thing you’re most excited about, research-wise, right now?

EC: I’m building a virtual archive of Republican descendants and have been meeting so many fascinating people through its construction. It’s been an amazing journey and I’ll send you the site link when it’s up.

Ronin on Social Media

The Ronin Institute now has its own twitter account: @RoninInstitute, so come join us! Also, remember, you can find all your favorite Ronin on Facebook, LinkedIn, ResearchGate, & Even Google Plus, if you believe that.

Reading About Adjuncts

Colleges and universities increasingly rely on poorly paid adjunct faculty to teach their courses. You’ve probably heard something about this, or even experienced it firsthand. But, if you’re interested in understanding the scope of the crisis resulting from the concerted deprofessionalization of the professoriate, here is a collection of writing from the past couple of years on the exploitation of adjunct labor. Whether you’re an aspiring academic worried about your financial future, a student or parent watching tuition skyrocket while quality of instruction plummets, or simply a thinking person who recognizes that society is not necessarily best served by universities that are motivated solely by profit, this is an important issue.

Gawker recently wrapped up an eight-part series featuring adjunct faculty sharing their stories. They are well worth a read if you have a strong stomach. If not, it boils down to this: adjuncts typically work for terrible pay — often amounting to less than minimum wage — and typically without benefits. This is disastrous for the people working these jobs, some of whom live in poverty, and many of whom are at constant risk of financial ruin. But it is also disastrous for the students, who are increasingly being taught by people who simply do not have the time to provide them with a quality education.

From Chronicle Vitae, a summary of a congressional report on adjunct labor, stemming from a forum convened by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce at the end of 2013.

This article, from the Atlantic, describes attempts at developing an adjunct labor movement, although it has been pointed out that the solutions being floated focus primarily on improving wages, neglecting the lack of security and loss of scholarly output resulting from the abandonment of tenure. A recent article from the Boston Globe provides an update on unionization efforts.

Sarah Kendzior has written a number of excellent articles on this topic, some of which can be found here. The most recent of these, from this May, focuses specifically on the issue of retirement, situating the retirement insecurity faced by adjuncts within larger economic and societal trends.

A recent survey focused specifically on history faculty provides a somewhat less bleak outlook, at least from a certain perspective. It suggests that most non-tenure-track faculty are doing a good job, and that many successful academics spent some time in non-tenure-track positions in the past. However, it is not clear that this means that non-tenure-track faculty have bright futures ahead of them.

Three other, more recent articles from the Atlantic have focused on the economic treatment of adjuncts. One focuses on adjunct pay, comparing it with the salaries of university presidents. Another details the impact that the poor treatment of adjunct faculty has on the quality of education provided to students. The third explicitly notes the disconnect between the skyrocketing tuition paid by students and the plummeting wages paid to the people educating them.

A recent article in Salon argues that the solution is to rethink tenure, reducing the focus on research and emphasizing teaching quality. Of course, that requires developing a way to incentivize universities to care about the quality of education they are providing more than the quantity of research funding coming in the door.


Here’s a sampling of some of the recent work by the independent scholars of the Ronin Institute:

Articles & Chapters

Baguskas, S. A., Still, C. J., Fischer, D. T., D’Antonio, C. M., & King, J. Y. (2016) Coastal fog during summer drought improves the water status of sapling trees more than adult trees in a California pine forest. Oecologia 181:1-12.

Banerjee, S. (2016) A Biologically Inspired Model of Distributed Online Communication Supporting Efficient Search and Diffusion of Innovation. Interdisciplinary Description of Complex Systems 14: 10-22.

Banerjee, S. (2015) Optimal Strategies for Virus Propagation. arXiv 1512.00844.

Kahya, E. O. & Desai, S. (2016) Constraints on frequency-dependent violations of Shapiro delay from GW150914. Physics Letters B 756: 265-267.

Haas, A. F., Fairoz, M. F. M., Kelly, L. W., Nelson, C. E., Dinsdale, E. A., Edwards, R. A., Giles, S., Hatay, M., Hisakawa, N., Knowles, B., Lim, Y. W., Maughan, H., Roach, T. N. F., Sanchez, S. E., Silveira, C. B., Sandin, S., Smith, J. E., & Rohwer, F. (2016) Global microbialization of coral reefs. Nature Microbiology 16042.

Hisakawa, N., Quistad, S. D., Hester, E. R., Martynova, D., Maughan, H., Sala, E., Gavrilo, M. V., & Rohwer, F. (2015) Metagenomic and satellite analyses of red snow in the Russian Arctic. PeerJ 3: e1491.

Muirhead, C. A. & Presgraves, D. C. (2016) Hybrid Incompatibilities, Local Adaptation, and the Genomic Distribution of Natural Introgression between Species. The American Naturalist 187: 249-261.

Patterson, D., Mozzherin, D., Shorthouse, D., & Thessen, A. (2016) Challenges with using names to link digital biodiversity information Biodiversity Data Journal 4: e8080.

Rastogi, B., Williams, A. P., Fischer, D. T., Iacobellis, S. F., McEachern, K., Carvalho, L., Jones, C., Baguskas, S. A., & Still, C. J. (2016) Spatial and Temporal Patterns of Cloud Cover and Fog Inundation in Coastal California: Ecological Implications Earth Interactions 20: 1-19.

Thessen, A. E. (2016) Adoption of machine learning techniques in Ecology and Earth Science. PeerJ PrePrints e1720v1.

Thessen, A. E., Bunker, D. E., Buttigieg, P. L., Cooper, L. D., Dahdul, W. M., et al. (2015) Emerging semantics to link phenotype and environment. PeerJ 3: e1470.

Thessen, A. E., Fertig, B., Jarvis, J. C., & Rhodes, A. C. (2016) Data Infrastructures for Estuarine and Coastal Ecological Syntheses. Estuaries and Coasts 39: 295-310.

Thessen, A. E., McGinnis, S., & North, E. W. (2016) Lessons learned while building the Deepwater Horizon Database: Toward improved data sharing in coastal science. Computers & Geosciences 87:84-90.

Wilkins, J. F., McHale, P. T., Gervin, J., & Lander, A. D. (2016) Survival of the Curviest: Noise-Driven Selection for Synergistic Epistasis. PLoS Genetics 12: e1006003.

Wilkins, J. F., Úbeda, F., & Van Cleve, J. (2016) The evolving landscape of imprinted genes in humans and mice: Conflict among alleles, genes, tissues, and kin. BioEssays 38:482-489.


Eric Smith and Harold Morowitz. (2016) The Origin and Nature of Life on Earth: The Emergence of the Fourth Geosphere. Cambridge University Press.

Opinion and Reviews

Callier, V., Greenbaum, S., & Vanderford, N. L. (2015) The traditional training of PhDs threatens the technology transfer and entrepreneurship pipeline while innovative programs provide unique recovery opportunities. Technology Transfer and Entrepreneurship 2:51-58.

Callier, V. (2016) The bee whisperer. Science 352: 902.

About the Ronin Institute

The Ronin Institute is dedicated to building an alternative model of academic scholarship outside of the traditional university system. To learn more, visit us at or send us email.

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