2014 Through the Academe Blog: June

Janet D. Stemwedel started off June with an explanation as to why she can no longer donate to her alma mater:

As a professor at San José State University, a teaching-focused institution in the California State University system, I am teaching a very different student population than Wellesley’s. Approximately half of our students are first-generation college students. Many of our full-time students work 40 hours a week or more to pay for college (and, frequently, to support their families). A heartbreakingly large proportion of our students arrive at our university with the expectation that a college degree will be of merely instrumental value (to help them get a job, to secure them a better salary at the job they have), having never encountered a teacher who believed in their ability to learn broadly and deeply — or who believed that they were entitled to learning for its own sake, for their own enjoyment.

These are students who need an educational experience like the one Wellesley provided for me. My mission as a professor is to give them as much of this experience as I can.

Stemwedel explains that it is Wellesley’s participation in “edX without attaching conditions to their MOOCs that prevent their use to replace classroom education that is working and to undermine meaningful educational access, Wellesley College is hurting my students and my ability as a professor to give them some of what Wellesley gave me.” This is an important point, for what is happening through things like edX are doing nothing, as Stemwedel says, but expanding the gap between the elite and the rest.


Hank Reichman alerted us to Lesa Hammond’s “book” Become a Part-Time Professor: live and teach anywhere you likeHe

Perhaps Hammond might have benefited from reading a study released in 2012 by the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education entitled “Who is Professor ‘Staff” and how can this person teach so many classes?” which reports the results of a survey of contingent faculty in the United States, focusing on the working conditions imposed upon contingent faculty and the ways those conditions impact students and the quality of the education they receive.  The picture offered there is quite different from the idyllic life portrayed in her book and video.

Martin Kich described the “Walmartization” of education:

Indeed, the Walton Family Foundation is providing financial support for everything from training teachers to staff charter schools to promoting research that justifies the privatization of public education. The Walton Family Foundation is the largest private donor to Teach for America, which now places about a third of its corps members in charter schools. And the Foundation funds a research institute at the University of Arkansas that is dedicated to scholarship supporting the concepts of charter schools, school vouchers, and other mechanisms for privatizing public education.

I wrote a post sparked by Henry Giroux’s Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education:

When we stopped producing citizens–or, at least, trying to–but bowed to corporate demands for training instead of education (this starting as far back as the 1970s), we sowed the seeds of the disaster we are now facing, abetting the growth of a new sort of selfishness growing out of the American tradition of individualism. Ayn Rand has conquered all, becoming an excuse for doing just what one pleases–with the protection, today, of groups of like-minded graspers.

Michael DeCesare wrote about the cutting of 16 positions at Quinnipiac University:

When the story about the faculty terminations at Quinnipiac first broke last month, a blogging dean wrote: “This is the kind of hamfisted, capricious, secretive approach that feeds every hateful myth [about administrators].” He concluded by offering “free advice to my counterparts at Quinnipiac: roll it back.  Admit that you overshot, and put together a serious process on campus to make strategic decisions next year. Either that, or get some very, very good lawyers.”

Ulf Kirchdorfer wondered a bit about the decisions made relating to our campus physical plants:

How would learning outcomes have been improved with this new wondrous toilet that cost quite a bit to install in the old “sinking” building with classrooms and faculty offices in need of renovation? Why was the decision made to renovate a bathroom that would make the rest of the building look terrible? Was this some sort of ingenious plan, putting the bathroom before the classroom, and funding by decision makers would thus follow?

None of us, I think, can answer his questions.

Walter Breau also wondered with a tinge of irony, in this case about the thinking concerning how “learning” happens:

The point he is trying to make is clear however. If a qualified, passionate instructor develops the best online course, one that meets all the criteria of a high quality course, up-to-date and appropriate content for the coverage area, engagement, community and student support, robust outcomes and assessment of student learning, etc., and the infrastructure to enroll and serve any number of students, is there any need for a second course?

John K. Wilson wrote about a Foundation for Individual Rights in Education study of “disinvitations” to speak on campuses:

FIRE’s list of disinvitation attempts is an important document that should continue to be updated. But the flaws in FIRE’s data and definitions are also important to point out. We need to condemn disinvitations whether it’s right-wingers or left-wingers who are the offenders. But we also need an accurate overall picture of who the most common censors on campus are, to counter the myth that conservatives are the primary victims of censorship at American colleges and universities.

Wilson also examined a bill introduced by Rep. Alan Grayson that would remove funding for any institution associated with a boycott of Israel:

It’s unclear exactly how far Grayson’s bill would extend. If a student group or a department decided not to invite an Israeli scholar, would this trigger the total ban on federal funding? If a university issues a statement against injustices in Israel, would that violate this bill? That’s a matter of interpretation. But the effect of a ban on all federal funds would be so catastrophic to almost any college that the vagueness of this bill’s language would be likely to cause some universities to suppress academic freedom out of fear.

Following in Breau’s footsteps, I posted on ‘disruptive innovation”:

As one who has run a business, I’ve always seen Clayton Christensen’s “disruptive innovation” as simply another bit of gobbledegook getting in the way of getting things done.

It turns out I am not the only one. Jull Lepore, writing in the June 23, 2014 New Yorker, goes further:

It’s a theory of history founded on a profound anxiety about financial collapse, an apocalyptic fear of global devastation, and shaky evidence.

Reichman continued to keep us abreast of the situation concerning the City College of San Fancisco:

In the continuing standoff between faculty, staff, and students at City College of San Francisco, supported by broad community forces and prominent political leaders, and the Accrediting Commission for Junior and Community Colleges (ACCJC; see my most recent posts here and here; see also my original post of July 8 and subsequent posts onJuly 13, August 13, and November 8 of 2013) it would appear that ACCJC has blinked.  On June 11, the Commission announced proposed  changes in its policy exclusively for colleges with terminated accreditation, granting a chance for such colleges to request a new “accreditation restoration status.”

Kich noted that video-gaming is becoming part of college athletics:

Robert Morris University in Illinois has announced that it will be fielding a team to compete in the Collegiate Star League, a video-gaming league in which 103 other institutions now field teams to play the video game League of Legends.

So, in those details, this is not a new story.

But Robert Morris has taken this a step further than any other institution. It is adding this team to its athletics program, and it is offering “athletics” scholarships as it actively recruits players for its team.

June was a month of much more than this recap contains, but the sampling above gives some indication of the breadth of discussion over the month.

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