Ohio’s Public-University Presidents Take a Stand, of Sorts, on Faculty Workload

As I have indicated in several previous posts, there is another attempt in this year’s budget review bill (HB 484) in the Ohio legislature to increase faculty workloads by ten percent.

I have posted OCAAUP President John McNay’s full testimony on that provision to the House Committee considering the bill.

Bruce Johnson has also testified before that committee. Since 2006, Johnson has served as the President of Ohio’s Inter-University Council (IUC), the organization through which the state’s public university presidents coordinate their initiatives and their responses to legislation related to higher education.

Johnson is a Republican, a former Lieutenant Governor of Ohio and the former Director of the state’s Department of Economic Development. Under his leadership, the IUC has not exactly been supportive of public university faculty. Most notably, the IUC not only accepted but actually advocated for the language in Senate Bill 5 that would have eliminated all collective bargaining rights for faculty.

Below is Johnson testimony on the workload provisions in HB 484. It’s actually a fairly cogent response to a poorly conceived, ultimately unenforceable, but now annually recurring attempt to mandate an across-the-board increase in faculty workloads. Johnson manages to make some of the arguments that John McNay made in his much more openly skeptical testimony, while still seeming to make the politically required gesture of supporting the broader intent of the bill. Continue reading

CCSS: The Pushback Gains Momentum

Since the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were introduced, The New York Times has been in constant, clamorous support. Columnists as diverse as Paul Krugman and David Brooks have lauded them; new stories have assumed their obvious utility and necessity.

Today, however, that started to change. Columnist Timothy Egan wrote this:

The push for Common Core standards in the schools came from colleges and employers who complained that high schools were turning out too many graduates unprepared for the modern world. That legitimate criticism prompted a massive overhaul affecting every part of the country. Now, the pushback, in part, is coming from people who feel that music, art and other unmeasured values got left behind — that the Common Core stifles creativity. Educators teach for the test, but not for the messy brains of the kids in the back rows.

Egan is wrong about the push for CCSS–colleges and employers have complained about the quality of our high-school graduates, yes, but I have yet to hear one argue that imposition of random and universal “standards” would solve the problem–but it is wonderful to finally read someone give even the slightest criticism of CCSS in the Times. Continue reading

Addressing the Faculty Crisis

If American higher education is going to continue to aspire to excellence, its institutions need to address and reverse the growing reliance on adjuncts as teachers. Not only is this exploitative of the adjuncts (to say nothing of the students), but it reduces our colleges and universities to factories, effectively excluding academic freedom and removing research components from teaching responsibilities. Two of the three aspects of a professor’s job, teaching, scholarship and service, are eliminated, for adjuncts are expected to do nothing but complete classroom activities.

Though reliance on adjuncts has risen primarily because it is a cheap alternative to tenured and tenure-track faculty, it also fits into the corporate top-down models of governance, models of efficiency that see shared governance as a waste of time and energy. To date, college and university administrations have been given little incentive to move in another direction. To them, use of adjuncts provides a situation where they not only save money but they get rid of pesky faculty involvement in what they see as exclusively their own responsibilities. They are not going to make a change unless countering incentives, or new oversight structures, are offered.

It’s nice to see that the plight of adjuncts is finally getting play in American media. The New York Timesfor example, ran an editorial today that ends: Continue reading

Outcomes Of Perpetual Surveyance (OOPS)

My Professional Activity Report and Self Evaluation (or PARSE) is over twenty pages long… not counting all of the required documentation. PARSE was instituted to save time and space–it’s all on computer and just needs ‘updating’ each year–but it seems to have become a repository of everything that can either be scanned or entered having any sort of relation to faculty activities. All of us on faculties everywhere are, for good reason, concerned about our advancement… to tenure (if we are lucky enough to be on that track), to re-appointment, to promotion. So, we dump everything we can into our files and then burn them all onto our particular institution’s version of PARSE DVDs at the end of each academic year.

Promotion committees get the pleasure of reading through all of this. It’s quite the experience. I’ve only been doing it for a couple of years (having made it to Associate Professor that recently), but I am already exhausted each year by the sheer volume on each candidate… and by the demands of the Peers Committee as it discusses each file. Teaching, scholarship, and service: we get caught up by the minutiae of each, constantly in danger of forgetting that there’s a person involved, too, someone whose contributions can’t be completely reduced to the 1s and 0s of a digital file. Continue reading

“The New Public Intellectual”

In his introduction to the 2000 edition of his 1987 book The Last Intellectuals: American Culture in the Age of Academe, Russell Jacoby wrote:

Intellectuals have not disappeared, but something has altered in their composition. They have become more professional and insular; at the same time they have lost command of the vernacular, which thinkers from Galileo to Freud had mastered. Where the Lewis Mumfords or Walter Lippmanns wrote for a public, their successors “theorize” about it at academic conferences.

That is not quite so true today, thanks in part to the silo busting sparked by digital technologies, but we in our ivory towers still have a ways to go before today’s William Jameses will attract invitations to address church groups and community organizations, filling their halls with excitement and conversation. Jacoby goes on:

At the end of my original preface, I indicated possible change in the offing. Driven by academic discontent and boredom, professors might want to reinvent themselves as public writers. To a limited extent I think this has happened in the last ten years. In the domain of philosophy, for example, Richard Rorty represents an effort to invigorate a public philosophy, and he has been followed by a number of others. Historians and literary critics increasingly try to break out of closed discussions into a larger public. Yet these professionals are not heeding but bucking institutional imperatives that reward esoteric rather than public contributions.

The growth of the blogosphere and the advent of social media are, today, making it easier for academics to “break out,” but we still, for the most part, speak only to each other—though, as Jacoby says, positive change does continue.

The Jan/Feb 2014 issue of Academe is headed “The New Public Intellectual.” Perhaps we should have added a question mark but, I think, we are in fact seeing a change in the way American academics relate to the rest of American culture. One article, by Nicholas Behm, Sherry Rankins-Robertson and Duan Roen, makes once more the case that the role of the public intellectual is crucial even to us in the academy. Another, by Rebecca Gould, details the legacy of Aaron Swartz, an intellectual outsider whose influence, if there is any justice in the world, will only grow. Richard McCarty takes the quest for academic freedom to religious institutions, considering the clash of conflicting public roles. Former Academe editor Ellen Schrecker provides an overview of the history of academic freedom, the bedrock for public-intellectual activities. In separate articles by Leemon McHenry and Paul Sharkey and then by Chris Nagel, one of the greatest contemporary threats both to academic freedom and the public intellectual—the continuing rise of reliance on contingent hires—is once again explored. Finally, Patricia Hill shows how the skills developed in academia can even be applied to something so mundane as jury duty.

In addition to these, I hope readers will take a look at Kevin Brown‘s “That’s Not What Happened to Me” and Jane Arnold‘s “What Do Students Think?” Good stuff!

Read and comment!

Ohio House of Representatives Creates “Higher Education Reform Study Committee”

Earlier this month, the Ohio House of Representatives announced the creation of the “Higher Education Reform Study Committee,” chaired by Rep. Cliff Rosenberger (R-Carksville), who also served as chair of the House finance Higher Education Subcommittee during the budget process.

The committee has embarked on a “road show,” traveling all over the state to public and for-profit colleges to discuss a myriad of issues in higher education.

At this time, it is unknown what the committee ultimately hopes to accomplish. The committee’s mission statement doesn’t provide any real clues: “A high-quality education system is critical not only for individuals’ success but also the long-term viability of Ohio’s economy. The Higher Education Study Committee is an opportunity to follow up on outstanding issues raised during the budget process as well as identify additional policies designed to strengthen Ohio’s education system. It is my hope that information gathered through these hearings will form the basis for initiatives designed to support and expanded ongoing reform efforts.”

The word “Reform” in a committee title usually suggests that some problem has come to so much public attention, that it has caused such expressions of public concern, that it must now be addressed very vigorously and pointedly by the legislature.

But this committee is covering just about every issue related to higher education: Continue reading

Duke’s Composition MOOC & Writing Commons, First-Day Musings

Yesterday (3/18/13) at Writing Commons, the open-education home for writers, we had unprecedented interest in our project: 7,071 unique visitors came to our site!

What caused our readership to more than double in a day?

Professor Denise Comer’s team from Duke University launched its ground-breaking Composition MOOC, English Composition I: Achieving Expertise.  In case you missed the announcement, Duke’s MOOC is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and hosted by Coursera.  If you’re curious about MOOCs and composition, you can still enroll: https://www.coursera.org/course/composition.

Welcome Duke MOOC

3/18/13 is a pretty huge day @ Writing Commons thanks to the Duke MOOC!

Writing Commons Post CardIn past blogs, I’ve chronicled the development of Writing Commons, the Open Education Home for Writers, with hopes that my experiences developing an Open Education Resource (OER) might be of interest to faculty across the disciplines.  I’ve argued that faculty might want to consider contributing to Writing Commons or other OERs that are peer-reviewed, that faculty might want to develop their own OERs and try to grow communities around their projects.  And I’ve argued that CC 3.0 NC ND is a viable copyright license for faculty who are re-purposing a textbook.

Although I’ve been working on Writing Commons for over a decade, I assumed I’d need another ten or twenty years before the project became widely used.  Instead, I feel like a NASA engineer whose rocket is going to blast off from Cape Canaveral.  Why?  This past week I learned that Duke University has adopted Writing Commons for its upcoming MOOC, which is funded by the Gates Foundation.  By 3/18, we can expect an additional 50,000 to 75,000 students to come banging on our door.  Now it may be true some of these students may not stick around for the full MOOC but we certainly want to make them feel as welcome as possible.

Progress of Writing Commons Monthly Visitors January 2012 to February 2013.

Progress of Writing Commons Monthly Visitors from February 2012 to February 2013.

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Contrary to Arguments by Hardcore Open Education Advocates, Creative Commons NC ND Is A Valid License for Academic Authors


Various talented folks and communities (e.g., the Open Knowledge Foundation and QuestionCopyright.org) believe Creative Commons should retire its NC ND clauses.  Students for Free Culture argue the NC clause is “completely antithetical to free culture (it retains a commercial monopoly on the work).”   Timothy Vollmer  asserts the NC ND clauses should be renamed ““Commercial Rights Reserved” because this license fails to “provide for all of [these] freedoms:

  • “the freedom to use the work and enjoy the benefits of using it
  • the freedom to study the work and to apply knowledge acquired from it
  • the freedom to make and redistribute copies, in whole or in part, of the information or expression
  • the freedom to make changes and improvements, and to distribute derivative works”

Clearly, adopting an NC or ND clause is less free than adopting a CC 3.0 SA license, which permits, for example, users to benefit commercially or produce derivative works.  However, this doesn’t mean a CC 3.0 NC ND is not a free license.  In fact, rather than retiring the CC 3.0 NC ND, I think Creative Commons should affirm these clauses for academics.  There are a good many situations where CC 3.0 NC ND is an ideal license.

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The Gates Foundation and Three Composition MOOCs.

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) have been getting a lot of attention lately.  The idea of free access to higher education via  online classes challenges our traditional assumptions about good undergraduate pedagogy–that small class sizes and significant face-to-face time with professors are crucial to learning.  As a parent with two kids at private universities, I find the idea of a quality, free education particularly appealing.

In its November 13th press release, Gates announced awards of 12 grants for a total of 3 million dollars to develop MOOCs for a variety of courses–from developmental math to English Composition.  Given my commitment to developing Writing Commons, http://writingcommons.org, so that it’s the go-to site for any college student with a writing question, you can imagine how keen I am on the idea of using Writing Commons for MOOC-orientated writing courses.  That said, to be qualified for Gates’ funding for MOOCs, applicants had to convince a university to write a letter of support for the project.  In my case, for good reasons, this proved impossible.  After all, the worry goes, if you argue that composition can truly be taught to several hundred thousand students at a time, well, then, how do you defend the idea of small class sizes for writing courses?  Wouldn’t successful MOOCs undermine undergraduate education–especially in states with governors who are antagonistic toward education, in states where the bottom line provides the lens for judging success in higher education–the cheaper the degree (say a $10,000 community college degree) the better?

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