2014 Through the Academe Blog: May

A May Day reprinting of an article by Jack Rasmus concluded:

That condition of the 100 million plus working families in America today, International Labor Day 2014, is as lamentable as the accelerating accrual of income and wealth by the 1% is disgusting. Of course, the two trends are not mutually exclusive but directly related. The rich and very rich are becoming super-rich and mega-rich in large part at the direct expense of the rest.

Martin Kich, in looking at student debt, expressed his frustration at American politicians:

Most politicians and commentators on the Far Right do not wish to provide public funding for public education, including higher education, and prefer to re-frame the student debt crisis as a crisis of “rising college costs.” In their view, it is a crisis that can be solved by paying professors less and making them do more work, by largely eliminating programs in the humanities and social sciences and transforming universities into STEM colleges and advanced vocational schools, and by acclimating students to the idea that paying for such an education over the course of their working lives is “normal.”

What nonsense, yet the belief continues.

Brian C. Mitchell also looked that the costs students are incurring:

What’s worse most of the freshly-minted budgets are roughly pegged to 1-2 percentage points above inflation, ensuring that college costs will continue to rise even if the pace has slowed somewhat.

It is unsustainable.  Consumers, including the families of college-age students, have joined with politicians and the media to protest these increases.  Fifty percent of the college-going population begins at community colleges.  And perhaps more telling, many of the four-year colleges and universities did not meet their internal enrollment projections, including at some very good places last year.

Diane Morrison discussed the problems involved when an academic conference is scheduled for a hotel on a boycott list:

This fight became a venue for talking about how support for unions meshes with social work values and about how we “walk the talk” (or don’t). It was a chance to educate about labor perspectives. As a result, at our school we’re having a series of events this May to talk about social work’s relationship to labor and workers—hospitality industries, immigrant workers, the $15 Now campaign to raise Seattle’s minimum wage, and other labor topics.

Hank Reichman kept us informed of the situation of the City College of San Francisco:

As the clock continues to tick down to the ACCJC-imposed deadline of July 31 for the revocation of CCSF’s accreditation and the upcoming October trial date for the SF City Attorney’s lawsuit against the closure, several recent developments are worth reporting, including the first prominent defense of CCSF by other California community college administrators.

In an incident involving one of the characters of a huge academic-freedom concern that would develop in the summer, University of Illinois trustee Christopher Kennedy advocated for the firing of James Kilgore, an adjunct because of radical activity in the 70s. John K. Wilson commented:

Kennedy’s arguments for dismissing Kilgore are extremely disturbing. They indicate that Kennedy does not understand what academic freedom means, and that he places “sensitivity” and public opinion above academic merit in hiring procedures.

Ulf Kirchdorfer, in a satire, imagined a discussion about whom to invite to speak at commencement:

The names kept going round and round, like the wagons circling in a western, but it was like the rifles and arrows kept hitting both the settlers and the Indians, it was a very complicated thing, this selecting one man or woman for the job.  And then we couldn’t find a transsexual or transvestite good enough and even at our august institution of learning it appeared, but was never fully confirmed, mind you, that some were not really sure what constituted external and internal sexual organs or if sexual orientation was a kind of fluidity and if that would go nicely with the music that was planned, on account of pomp and circumstance having been banned as too overtly politically incorrect to even be allowed to play in a gesture making it somehow all politically correct, but not in a way that would offend political incorrectness either.

Donald Lazere, author of Why Higher Education SHOULD Have a Leftist Biasappealed to conservative scholars to engage in debate:

So I propose that one way for your officials or contributors to demonstrate their good faith would be to engage in an informal, “civil debate” or dialogue, in your Website or publications (or in person at a conference), adhering to my Ground Rules, both in general and in reference to the case studies of conservative bias marshaled in my book, especially Chapter 7, “Conservative Scholarship: Seeing the Object As It Really Isn’t.”

Mike Alewitz discussed the removal of student murals at Central Connecticut State University:

Previously, murals have occasionally been removed, but generally in consultation with the the art department. Richard Bachoo, director of operations, has now confirmed that eighteen murals (see attachments) were either destroyed, or are scheduled to be destroyed, by the administration.

There was no notification or justification to the artists, the faculty or department. Aside from the censorship of two controversial pieces, there seems to be no logic to the selection of these particular artworks for removal.

Michael DeCesare brought to our attention a Canadian academic-freedom problem:

Robert Buckingham, the Executive Director of the University of Saskatchewan’s School of Public Health and a full professor, was fired and had his tenure revoked yesterday for criticizing the university’s restructuring plan, TransformUS.

Upon arriving at work Wednesday morning, Buckingham was met by two campus security officers who promptly escorted him off campus and told him to stay off of university property. The outrageous decision to unceremoniously fire him was prompted by a letter that he had made public the day before, entitled “The Silence of the Deans.” The letter described a December 2013 meeting during which President Ilene Busch-Vishniac allegedly told the deans and vice-presidents “not to ‘publicly disagree with the process or findings of TransformUS.’” The letter briefly outlined a general administrative culture of silencing dissent.

Gwendolyn Bradley commented on the bizarre situation in Kansas where the state university board of regents instituted a policy muzzling faculty free speech:

On the bright side, the policy is SO egregious that folks are noticing that fact. TheKansas City Star editorialized that “Perhaps there is a way the Kansas Board of Regents could have done a worse job of writing a social media policy. But it’s hard to see how.”

Reichman spent some time looking at faculty rights to gains from their work:

Now most faculty members, even in the physical sciences, will not invent something patentable, but the legal principles covering patents and those covering copyright are closely related, if not identical.  An institution that claims control over any faculty work product may well seek to extend that control to all faculty work product, and that is precisely what we are witnessing.

Walter Breau looked at the situation of small liberal-arts colleges:

As small liberal arts colleges navigate present and future challenges, I believe it is a given that it will be necessary to nurture and develop the traditional residential student experience, while at the same time developing academic programs that will be attractive to the non-traditional adult learner. Accessible, accelerated and affordable programs that an individual, already busy with work and family, can look at and conclude, “I can fit this program into my busy life. And completing this program will change and improve my life”, will be an essential part of the future small liberal arts college.

Mitchell took on the thorny issue of rating colleges:

It’s too late to stem the ratings tide.  Ratings have become a lucrative business that divides American colleges and universities on terms that they did not establish but on which they are now judged.  At the very least, American higher education must come to terms with this harsh reality in a less defensive way.  Perhaps they could start by determining and communicating what they value.

If Americans can better understand the value, they might be willing to see higher education for what it once was and should remain– a public good.

Jonathan Rees looked at MOOCs:

Back when I was blogging mostly about regular online courses, before higher education caught MOOC madness, I heard a great deal from dedicated online instructors about what online education could be.  “You’re assuming the worst case scenario,” many of them essentially told me.  “Give somebody who knows what they’re doing a chance to shine, and they can create fantastic courses that can’t be duplicated in a face-to-face environment.”  I’ve come to believe that’s true, but the advent of MOOCs has only reinforced my belief in the likelihood of the worst case scenario.  Any administrator willing to subject the students at their university to the kind of automated education that MOOCs provide doesn’t care one whit whether your online course meets the high standards that dedicated instructors can set for it.

Bill Ayers, in a post reprinted from his personal blog, was worried by the idea of “trigger warnings,” seeing them as a threat to education. He wrote:

The trigger warning—if it is to be used at all—should appear on the application to college itself: Please be aware that you will be challenged here, you will be exposed to ideas you cannot now imagine, you will experience times of cognitive dissonance and intellectual vertigo, and you will likely be transformed in some unscripted and unpredictable ways. If that doesn’t appeal to you, stay home in the comfort of your couch and your familiar books and things.

There was much more on the blog in May, of course–and much, much more would be to come.

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