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

Backseat Driving in the Clown Car

Backseat driving in the clown car: that’s what pundits are about, today.

In The New York Times, David Brooks tries to turn that around, making out that is those who disagree with him who have the red noses and squeeze horns. He mounts a defense of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) based on the idea that those he shills for are the wise and considerate and caring–and that everyone else is either raw material or the lunatic fringe (both left and right).

Education, to Brooks, “is to get students competitive with their international peers.” What the students need in their personal lives, or want, these don’t matter. What communities need, in terms of citizens and contributing members, doesn’t matter. And anyone who disagrees with Brooks and those he advocates for is a nut. A clown. Continue reading

So Oedipus and Big Daddy Go into a Board of Trustees Meeting and Order a Couple of Glasses of Snake Oil

This morning I attended a Board of Trustees meeting. When it was over, I concluded that I might be unduly rushing my return to the university, three months after my surgery.

But every faculty member must periodically attend such a meeting in order to have no delusions about what the “problem” is. Despite our starting out in much the same place, faculty and administrators not only speak different languages, but they also think in fundamentally different ways. It is no wonder that we have such divergent priorities.

When I was a much younger faculty member, our dean was trying to encourage me to become an associate dean. So he invited me to be his guest at an administrative retreat. As they were getting ready to serve lunch (on real china!), I glanced over at our dean, who was clearly in his element and enthusiastically “working the room.” I looked down at the place setting on the table in front of me, and I wondered if I would be excused for the afternoon if I took the knife and the fork into each of my hands and plunged them into my eyeballs. But, as I afterwards explained to my friends, it occurred to me that I might be made to sit there, my oozing eye-holes providing a testament to my aberrant mindset—like some later-day Oedipus at Colonus, who, to satisfy his perversely exaggerated sense of irony, had gouged out his eyes after discovering that he had not murdered his father and had not had sex with his mother. 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

Liberal Arts: The Perfect Education for the Business World

Keeping on my theme from the last couple of weeks, let’s look at some additional evidence of post-graduation success for students who attend a liberal arts college. Clyde Tuggle, Senior Vice President and Chief Public Affairs Officer at Coca-Cola, recently spoke at a gathering of Washington and Lee University students. Speaking about his current job, Tuggle told the students:

“To serve an organization like Coca-Cola, you need to speak a minimum of two foreign languages,” he said, “and have international experience. You need to see yourself as a citizen of the world — think like a Moroccan and see the world from that point of view — or you are behind the curve. You need the cultural skill to walk into any space and be comfortable, to blend into the environment.”

Tuggle, with undergraduate degrees in German and economics from Hamilton College, and a master’s of divinity from Yale, told the students, “I learned communications, research and critical thinking in liberal arts and religious studies…the perfect education for the business world.”

Andrew Benett, global CEO of Havas Worldwide, in his recent posting on fastcompany.com, proposes a counterargument to the notion that students must choose a career-directed educational path, for example in the STEM fields, as a “safe bet” for a future high-paying job. Continue reading

Across the Great Divides? No More (Updated)

No matter the measure you use–education, income, heritage, race, family size, job type, language–Americans are moving to greater segregation than we have ever before experienced. This is a no-brainer; it has been the pattern for decades, and it becomes more dominant each year.

We must be satisfied with it, for we are doing nothing, absolutely nothing to change it. Certainly not in higher education.

My students, most of them first-generation college students, many of them immigrants, almost all of them from the less fortunate “side of the tracks” in one way or another (generally in many), are still sold the dream that they can make it to the other side of the divides, that their education is going to make a difference. They have been told that degrees are all it takes, told it throughout their education. I work with an Associates degree program, a transfer program meant to prepare students for baccalaureate majors. Few of these students were strong candidates for college in the first place (else they would be at one of the other CUNY campuses) though most of them (even those lacking basic skills) have the intellectual capacity for college work. As in A.A. programs nationwide, however, their success rate is abysmally low. We, like educators everywhere, are working hard to change that–but we still are, also, abetting a situation of growing separation.

What are these students going to do when they do get their Bachelor’s degrees and find that they still aren’t going to get the prize jobs? When are we going to admit to them that the dreams for their futures that we have helped foster can never be realized, that their chances of crossing to the other side are next to nil? When are we going to recognize that we are fooling ourselves–along with our students–when we claim that degrees are enough in themselves? Continue reading

A College President Who Is Running for the Senate in Nebraska Is an Over-Achiever Who Is Willing—Perhaps All Too Willing–to Be Perceived as an Idiot

Ben Sasse, the president of Midland College, is the current frontrunner for the Republican nomination to fill an open Senate seat in Nebraska. He has received the endorsements and financial support of just about every major national Republican group worth mentioning.

Nonetheless, opposition to his candidacy has become a unifying cause for Tea Party Republicans and Libertarian groups in the state, who believe that his views are not far enough to the Far Right. A few national figures, most notably Sarah Palin, have weighed in on the side of those opposing his candidacy.

To some casual observers, this backlash against his candidacy may seem somewhat surprising since his most memorable political ad seems pointedly designed to appeal to anti-government and, more specifically, anti-Washington sentiment. In that political ad, Sasse suggested that the nation’s capital has become so irredeemably corrupt that the only way to reduce the influence of entrenched special interests may be to move the capital to Nebraska. Continue reading

A More Aggressive Department of Labor

It is no secret that organized labor has been under attack, especially in the Midwest and especially since the 2010 elections when Far-Right governors and legislatures were elected in many of those states. Although the margins of victory in many of the individual contests were narrow, the cumulative effect was much more dramatic, and it was compounded by the redistricting that occurred early in the following year, which will protect the Far-Right legislative majorities essentially for this entire decade. The passage of “right to work” legislation in Indiana and Michigan has not reflected some great shift in public opinion in those states. Rather, it has resulted from Far-Right state governments that for the time being feel electorally immune to public backlash and from their exploitation of the extreme economic hardship caused by the Great Recession in those states.

The one electoral bright spot has been the impossibility of rigging statewide elections. Thus, a very adamantly pro-labor senator like Sherrod Brown in Ohio was able to be re-elected by a very wide margin, despite more than $30 million in outside money being poured into the state to support his opponent (that is, about three out of every four dollars spent on behalf of his opponent came from outside the state).

The Obama administration has been very slow to push back against many of the aggressive and radical strategies of those on the Far Right. But, in the President’s second term, no executive department has seem more revitalized and up to the task of pushing back than the Department of Labor has been. The reconstituted National Labor Relations Board has been reasserting workers’ right to unionize and , whether they are unionized or not, to be compensated fairly and to work in safe conditions. I think that this new spirit of activism is reflected in the Labor Secretary’s Senate testimony on his department’s budget requests.

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Irresponsible Expressions of Dissent?

Readers of this blog know that I have been reporting occasionally on the continuing conflict between faculty, staff, and students at City College of San Francisco (CCSF) and the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), which has threatened to revoke CCSF’s accreditation on what many — including San Francisco’s City Attorney and other prominent political leaders — consider dubious grounds.  (For the most recent post go here; see also my original post of July 8 and subsequent posts on July 13, August 13, and November 8.)

One reason I believe this conflict is so important is its potential implications for accreditation everywhere.  An ominous sign  — and a new wrinkle in the CCSF struggle — is a recent proposal by ACCJC to add a new accreditation standard that would require that an institution’s “board, administration, faculty, staff and students, act responsibly and with integrity.” Such a requirement, of course, could well threaten the freedom of speech of all members of an institutional community, especially since it is totally unclear what “responsible” behavior would have to entail.

This is the important point made by the following discussion of the proposal written by Karen Saginor, first vice president and former president of the academic senate and a librarian at CCSF. Hers is a cautionary tale well worth reading; one only can hope that the ACCJC will step back from this very dangerous proposal.

Irresponsible Expressions of Dissent? A warning about new ACCJC Standard I.C.9.

By Karen Saginor, City College of San Francisco

A new standard section has been added to the revised ACCJC standards for approval in June. The new section says:

I.C.9. Through its policies, procedures and actions, the institution demonstrates that it promotes integrity and that the board, administration, faculty, staff and students, act responsibly and with integrity.

Continue reading