Crises Connected like Spokes of a Wheel—or the Pockets on a Roulette Wheel

Last Sunday, the New York Times published an editorial, signed by the editorial board, titled “The College Faculty Crisis” [http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/14/opinion/the-college-faculty-crisis.html].

In many ways, the editorial does not say much that should be new to anyone in higher education, but it is certainly significant that the most highly regarded newspaper in the country is highlighting the issues related to the declining state support for public colleges and universities and the effects of the increasing contingency among faculty.

Citing a new study by the Center for Community College Student Engagement, a research center at the University of Texas at Austin, a study that is based on the responses of some 71,000 faculty about their working conditions, the editorial writer emphasizes four major points, which I not only will summarize but will also elaborate on to some degree. Continue reading

The NLRB Decision on the Unionization of College Athletes at One Institution Signals, but Will Not Determine, the Changes That Are Coming

The Tacoma News Tribune very recently published a very thoughtful editorial by Bill Virgin titled “It’s Not So Far-Fetched to See the Future of Collegiate Sports as a Business Entity” [http://www.thenewstribune.com/2014/04/13/3147199/its-not-so-far-fetched-to-see.html?sp=/99/261/].

Virgin considers the following contrasts: the erosion of the concept of the amateur athlete and the rise of professional sports as a major entertainment industry, the rise in the profits generated by intercollegiate athletics and the low graduation rates among college athletes; and the tension between increased allocations to intercollegiate athletics ostensibly to market academic institutions and the rise in student debt and cuts to instructional budgets.

Virgin concludes that the end of amateur collegiate athletics is on the horizon—not because of the recent NLRB decision to allow the student athletes at Northwestern University to unionize but because that decision reflects a broader societal awareness of the hypocrisy of pretending that, at its top levels, this “big business” should be able to generate huge profits for everyone involved except for those most fundamentally involved, the athletes themselves.

Like Virgin, I don’t think that there is much point in mulling over the specifics of the NLRB decision on Northwestern. It seems more significant as a pivotal event than as a critical event: that is, it has created an awareness and a certain momentum that will extend beyond even its being overturned in the courts. Continue reading

USM President Rescinds Proposed Faculty Layoffs

Those regular readers of this blog will know that we have published several posts on the proposed elimination of faculty positions at the University of Southern Maine ostensibly to close a continuing budget gap but also to allow the administration more “flexibility” in funding programs.

This afternoon, the Lewiston Morning Sentinel is reporting that the president of the university of Southern Maine, Theodora Kalikow, has reversed herself on those faculty cuts: Continue reading

How to Deny Scholars Access to Historical Archives in the Digital Age

Over the last six months, the Chinese government has been systematically reducing access to historical archives by scholars.

There has been much speculation about the purpose of this effort. Some have speculated that it has to do with China’s strained relations with several of its neighbors, but most notably Japan, over possession of several groups of small islands in the South China Sea. Others have suggested that it is in response to the heightened tensions in regions of China itself where ethnic minorities, most notably the Islamic Uyghurs in Xinjiang, have begun engaging in low-level insurgencies or intermittent terror campaigns. Still others have concluded that the effort is not directly linked to any single current circumstance but, instead, that it reflects the Chinese government’s determination to maintain some control over how its own history is told, at least to its own people.

For scholars outside of China or in disciplines that don’t require such access to such archives, the reasons why access to the historical archives is being reduced are, however, of less interest than how the Chinese government is effecting this policy. Continue reading

Koch-Funded Political Research: It Doesn’t Even Rise to the Level of Having Very Dubious Credibility

A number of Far-Right media outlets have been reporting the results of a recent academic study that has found that, to quote the Newsmax headline, “Republican ‘Red States’ Are the Most Free.”

This study has been produced by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. The Mercatus Center was originally housed at Rutgers University under a different—and duller–name, the Center for the Study of Market Processes.

In the mid-1980s, the Koch Brothers donated $30 million to support the work of the center and to relocate it to the outskirts of the nation’s capital, at George Mason University. It receives no funding from the university; instead, it receives 98% of its support from Conservative foundations and individual donors.

Most broadly stated, the Mercatus Center’s mission is to “connect academic learning and real-world practice,” which, for most people would not much more enlightening than its Latinate name. More specifically, its purpose is to provide and promote free-market strategies for addressing public-policy issues.

It should surprise no one, therefore, that the research produced by this think-tank is basically Far-Right propaganda because it clearly sets out single-mindedly to find ways to confirm the core principles of that ideology. It does not seek to investigate the pressing questions of the day with anything approaching intellectual honesty and academic rigor, but it, instead, begs the questions by working from the ideological assertions that it purports then to support. Continue reading

The Top Issues Facing Higher Education in 2014 and Beyond

Writing for Forbes, John Ebersole, the president of Excelsior College, has identifeid the following ten issues as the most significant issues facing higher education this year:

1. Cost.

2. Renewal of the Higher Education Act.

3. Workforce development.

4. Competency-based education.

5. Accreditation.

6. Assessment.

7. Quality assurance in non-institutional learning.

8. Recognition of the new majority in student bodies.

9. Crisis in leadership.

10. The economy.

Ebersole notes that many readers may wonder about his exclusion of MOOCs as an issue, but he feels that the questions about their efficacy for most students and their over-exposure in the media have greatly decreased the consideration of MOOCs as an major innovation in higher education.

I agree largely with that assessment, but I would take issue with a fairly large number of his choices for the list. Continue reading

Missouri Program Allows Students to Apply University Credits Retroactively toward an Associates Degree

In a recent post, I discussed a dubious proposal put forward in Ohio to award associates degrees to all university students who have simply completed a specified number of credit hours, regardless of the distribution of those credit hours [http://academeblog.org/2014/04/04/kent-state-university-announces-plans-to-increase-dramatically-the-number-of-associates-degrees-that-it-grants/].

A much more reasonable program has been initiated in Missouri, though to date the results have not been anything close to what the proponents of the program hoped to achieve with it.

In 2012, the Missouri legislature approved what it called a “reverse-transfer program.” Recognizing the need for the state to produce more degrees at all levels and looking for inexpensive ways to achieve that goal, the legislature considered the number of students who had earned well over the number of credit hours needed for an associates degree without receiving any degree. Continue reading

Higher Education “Reform”: The Price Paid by the Next Generation of Students and Professors

An “On the Issues” Post from the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education [http://futureofhighered.org]

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The increasing awareness of—and outrage about–the size of the debt crushing college graduates is, we must hope, a sign that meaningful action to address it may be possible.

The numbers alone are staggering.  According to recent reports, the average student debt for graduates with bachelor’s degrees is now $29,400—roughly 80% of a young person’s average income in this country. (See more at http://www.edcentral.org/student-debt-review/.)

The implications of these numbers are also frightening.  As we are increasingly aware, student debt is fueling the widening wealth gap in the United States (http://save2limitdebt.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Student-Loans-Widening-Wealth-Gap_Fullreport.pdf) and even threatening the health of our overall economy (http://www.kansas.com/2013/08/10/2935730/crippling-student-debt-affects.html).

Less understood is the parallel economic precariousness of this generation of college professors. Continue reading

Bobby Jindal Sues MoveOn.org over Billboard Critical of His Administration

This week the Roberts Court doubled down on its arguments that political contributions are simply a form of free expression and they neither distort the electoral process nor exert a corrupting influence on our elected officials.

This week Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal filed a lawsuit against the progressive group MoveOn.org because it has paid for billboards around Louisiana that criticize his ideologically driven decision to deny expanded Medicaid coverage to a quarter million of the working poor of the state. Indeed, the billboards have been very effective because they have used his administration’s new tourism slogan to drive home the point that his concern for the welfare of the people of his state is as facilely and transparently self-serving as a pitch to tourists.

Here is the MoveOn.org billboard:

MoveOn Billboard

Jindal’s administration is arguing that the slogan “Pick your passion!” has been trademarked by the state and that MoveOn.org is, in effect, undermining the state’s tourism campaign by misappropriating the slogan for partisan political purposes. Continue reading

Kent State University Announces Plans to Increase Dramatically the Number of Associates Degrees That It Grants

The Columbus Dispatch recently reported that Kent State University is planning to grant an associates degree to any student who completes 60 credit hours, or about half of the credit hours needed for most baccalaureate degrees.

Apparently the university will create a generic associates degree for this purpose.

In addition to its main campus in Kent, Ohio, the university has the most extensive system of regional campuses of any university in the state. There are seven regional campuses in the Kent system, stretching from the northeast corner of the state and the shores of Lake Erie to the Amish region just north of I-70, which runs west to east across the entire state, passing through Dayton at the western end of the state and Columbus in the center. Kent State’s seven regional campuses are the Ashtabula, East Liverpool, Geauga, Salem, Stark, Trumbull, and Tuscarawas campuses.

At those regional campuses, the university has always awarded associates degrees. Ohio’s two dozen regional campuses are treated as colleges within nine of the state universities. Established during the 1960s and early 1970s, the regional university campuses initially offered selected technical programs, comparable to those typically offered at technical and community colleges, as well pre-baccalaureate coursework for students transferring in their third year to the main campuses of the universities. Over the past two decades, the university regional campuses have phased out many of the more “blue-collar” technical programs and have increased the number of baccalaureate degrees that can be completed entirely on the regional campuses.

So, the Kent campus’s announcement that it plans to start awarding associates degrees runs counter to the gradual and ongoing shift at the regional campuses away from an emphasis on associates degrees and toward a greater emphasis on baccalaureate degrees. And it is therefore hardly surprising that many questions would be raised about the rationale for such a plan. Continue reading