Friday, September 25, 2015

Killing a Tenure-Like System

Inside Higher Ed
September 24th, 2015

Faculty members at the State College of Florida don’t have tenure, but many longtime professors were satisfied with the due process guarantees included in their rolling contracts. But that all changed this week when, seemingly out of the blue, the college’s Board of Trustees -- over opposition from faculty members and administrators alike -- voted to end the continuous contract system and initiate one-year contracts for all newly hired faculty members.
“The reaction has run the gamut -- though it’s been all negative -- from, ‘Let’s start a union,’ to ‘This is such a shame,’ to ‘Well, now the college is just going to be a training ground for people who are willing to come stay here a short time until they move on to a job that does offer a longer contract,’” said Robyn Bell, an instructor of music and president of the Faculty Senate. State College is one of numerous institutions in Florida that has transitioned from a community college to a four-year institution.

Are They Learning?

Inside Higher Ed
September 25th, 2015

The debate over how much actual learning is taking place on college campuses is a historically heated one, as is the related discussion about how to measure that learning.
At the risk of oversimplifying, opinions on the latter range between two extremes. On one end are those (typically policy makers, researchers and trustees) who believe faculty grading of academic work at individual campuses says little to nothing about whether students there are really learning. On the other are those (mostly on college faculties) who believe that attempts to standardize assessment of student learning (through a national exam, say) are seriously flawed because they are too distant from what happens in the classroom and define learning too narrowly, among other problems.
Finding common ground between those polar viewpoints (though there are many perspectives in between) has been difficult.

Should You Stay or Should You Go?

The Chronicle of Higher Education
September 21st, 2015

Question (from "Old Fart Humanist"): My colleagues, to my face, call me "the gray eminence," because they perceive me as influential (well, I’m very well known in our profession). Behind my back, they call me "the old fart" and whisper things like, "Why doesn’t he step aside and make room for younger minds?"
It’s unnerving. I walk into a room for a meeting, and conversation suddenly ceases. Only a few younger colleagues have enough conscience or good manners to look guilty. Others ignore me unless they want something, such as a journal connection, a spot on a panel, or a grant recommendation.
I’m in my mid-60s, in good health, and I have excellent hearing. (My colleagues assume I don’t hear their conspiracies. Young people are so self-absorbed.) My courses get very good enrollments, and my teaching evaluations are excellent. I’m not costing a huge amount of money, since we haven’t had faculty raises in five years. Should I feel guilty, though, and retire so that young blood can trickle in?

Why College Is Not a Commodity

The Chronicle of Higher Education
September 11th, 2015

What is college for? We typically answer this question by citing a variety of purposes, of which liberal education is only one. Most other goals — marketable skills, moral and social development, learning how to learn — are tied to the demands of employers. Yes, young people need all of those qualities. But, apart from liberal education, our best colleges — say, the top 100 major research universities and the 50 best four-year colleges, which are our models of undergraduate education — aren’t an efficient way to provide them.
These institutions are built around their faculties: the remarkable array of physicists, biologists, economists, psychologists, philosophers, historians, literary scholars, poets, and artists who do cutting-edge, highly specialized scholarly and creative work. Such scholars may be superb as teachers, but they are far from a cost-effective source of job training. Even if we include liberal education as a goal, colleges do not need such high-powered faculties to teach undergraduates. People dedicated entirely to teaching, with no special interest in research but with master’s degrees in their subjects, could do an excellent job.

Why a Professor in Texas Hangs a ‘No Guns’ Sign in His Classroom

The Chronicle of Higher Education
September 24th, 2015

By next September, people will be legally allowed to carry concealed weapons on public-college campuses in Texas.
But David Smith-Soto, a senior lecturer in multimedia journalism at the University of Texas at El Paso, thinks the law is a bad idea. He hopes it will be challenged in court and never go into effect. Mr. Smith-Soto has written blog posts about why he’s against the law, and he’s hung a sign in his classroom that symbolically declares the space a gun-free zone­.
The El Paso professor’s protest got wider exposure after a Fox News television station interviewed him, and now it’s drawing support from professors on other campuses, too.

Faculty Members See Promise in Unified Way to Measure Student Learning

The Chronicle of Higher Education
September 25th, 2015

A new study that examined thousands of examples of student work in nine states may give professors, administrators, policy makers, and the public better tools to systematically understand what students are actually learning in college.
At least that’s what the supporters hope of the research effort, the results of which were released on Thursday.
"Proof of concept is what it is," said Julie M. Carnahan, a vice president at the State Higher Education Executive Officers, an association that led the project, called the Multi-State Collaborative to Advance Learning Outcomes Assessment, with the Association of American Colleges and Universities. "We have proved that this is an alternative to standardized tests."

Friday, September 18, 2015

Welcome, Outsider: Here’s How You Can Foster Faculty Confidence

The Chronicle of Higher Education
September 15th, 2015

At a leadership conference almost a decade ago, I met an incoming dean who had no previous academic experience except being a student. He was, in fact, a longtime business professional with a list of impressive "real world" accomplishments. He had been hired, he said, to radically transform a business college at a major research university. I cautioned him that to accomplish anything in higher education, especially a revolution, he would have to work long, hard, sincerely, and creatively to win over most of the faculty (not to mention staff, students, and alumni). Fast forward: After two tumultuous years and several faculty revolts, he was "resigned" by his provost.
The recent major upset at the installment of J. Bruce Harreld, a business leader and consultant, as the new president of the University of Iowa, thus, did not surprise me. I spent four years at Iowa as director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Industry outreach and donor engagement — the donors tending to be successful businesspeople — were and are now among my key duties, so I know that the differences between higher education and corporate America are real; border-crossers tread dangerously.

The Coddling of the American Mind

The Atlantic
September 2015

Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.

Teaching Working Students

New York Times
September 10th, 2015

Students are generally passive when talking about the law, but Ellie, a sophomore at CUNY’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, leapt into the discussion of the constitutionality of capital punishment in my death-­penalty course. When she eviscerated the Supreme Court ruling upholding Texas’ death penalty law, I knew I had met a special student. On the midterm, she earned the highest grade anyone had ever gotten on the exam. Later, I learned that she had scored 1,480 on her SAT. Ellie wanted to be an attorney; it seemed inevitable that she would end up at an Ivy League law school. She had a prodigious, nimble intellect and, as I saw it, a limitless future.
Ellie also had an 8-year-old son, whom she was raising on her own; an alcoholic, depressive father; and a mountain of debt. She had the strangest college transcript I had ever seen: straight A’s and straight F’s, with the exception of a single B-plus in English, which would have been an A but for the professor’s strict attendance policy that penalized anyone who missed more than three classes. In fact, all of her failing grades came from violations of draconian absence and lateness rules. When her son had a health crisis, she began to miss class more frequently, and she received five F’s.

Read more here

Seattle Teachers Reach Settlement after Five-Day Strike

Labor Notes
September 16th, 2015

After a five-day strike, Seattle teachers returned to work today as they reviewed their tentative agreement. While some members were disappointed that wage increases were not higher, they won on other important issues, including evaluations.
When the agreement was reached yesterday morning, said bargaining team member Andy Russell, chanting from supporters outside the building gave negotiators a boost. “Picketers started showing up at 5 a.m.,” he said.
Contentious issues were teacher pay, concessions demanded by the district, such as lengthening the school day without compensation, and union proposals to guarantee recess and curb standardized testing.
The settlement includes raises of 3 percent, 2 percent, and 4.5 percent over three years (members will also get a 4.5 percent cost-of-living increase from the state). The Seattle Education Association (SEA) succeeded in removing standardized test results from teacher evaluations and in establishing caseload caps for nurses and counselors.

Pennsylvania Court Blocks Faculty Background Checks

Inside Higher Ed
September 18th, 2015

A Pennsylvania judge has granted an injunction to block the State System of Higher Education from starting background checks on all faculty members, Lancaster Online reported. The faculty union challenged a new policy to conduct background checks on all faculty members as a policy that must go through collective bargaining, and the injunction will allow time for a state labor board to review that challenge. The union says that it does not object to background checks as required by state law for some faculty members, such as those who work with children on a regular basis. But the union says that just because there are people younger than 18 on most campuses -- as the state system has noted -- that does not mean all professors should be covered by the background check policy.

Questions With an Agenda on Tenure?

Inside Higher Ed
September 18th, 2015

Tenure is a touchy subject right now within the University of Wisconsin System, given the new limitations placed on the concept this summer by the state’s conservative-dominated Legislature. So a survey that arrived in faculty members’ inboxes earlier this week, asking for their opinions on tenure, drew immediate interest and participation. Sure, the survey asked some provocative questions, such as how much of a pay raise faculty members would need to give up tenure in exchange for multiyear contracts. But the survey had the imprimatur of a prestigious research institution, the University of Chicago, and a well-known political scientist was running the project. Plus, some faculty members welcomed the opportunity to vent about the ongoing challenges to tenure.
But then they got curious, if not suspicious. Just why was William Howell, the Sydney Stein Professor in American Politics at Chicago, interested in their views on tenure, and how would he use the data? How did he get all their email addresses? And who was funding the study, since that information was not provided either in the email or the survey itself?

Faculty Union Wins Bid to Halt Background Checks in Pennsylvania

The Chronicle of Higher Education
September 17th, 2015
A state judge has ordered Pennsylvania’s public-colleges system to stop making faculty members undergo criminal-background checks, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties had asked the judge to issue the injunction on the grounds that the vast majority of faculty members don’t teach minors. In his order, Judge Dan Pellegrini said any faculty member who teaches high-school students or comes into contact with minors regularly must submit to the checks.
A spokesman for the State System of Higher Education, Kenn Marshall, said the background checks were now on hold. “It is disappointing,” the system said in a statement, that the faculty union “sees this as a bargaining issue rather than as an important tool for enhancing safety and security of everyone who comes onto our campuses, especially the most vulnerable.”
The background checks were instituted as part of state legislation enacted after the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Pennsylvania State University.

Enrollment in Humanities Ph.D. Programs Declines as More Graduate Schools Slim Down

The Chronicle of Higher Education
September 17th, 2015

Do American universities produce too many Ph.D.s?
It’s a decades-old question that has intensified in recent years as worries about a stagnant academic-job market, record graduate-student debt, and the often-tough working conditions for doctoral students have grown. The situation has led some university administrators and students to call for a reduction in the number of Ph.D.s, especially in the arts and humanities, where those problems seem most acute.
New data show that such efforts may be having an effect.
First-time doctoral enrollment in history, English, and other arts-and-humanities disciplines fell 0.5 percent from 2013 to 2014, according to a report published on Thursday by the Council of Graduate Schools and based on a survey of 636 universities. The small decline caps a steady downward trend in enrollment from 2009 to 2014, when it fell an average of 1 percent a year.

Another Research Gender Gap: Men Get More Start-Up Money

The Chronicle of Higher Education
September 18th, 2015

It's no secret that women seeking to get a foothold in STEM fields often face serious impediments. Here's another potential one: Junior male medical researchers are more likely than their female peers to land sizable start-up packages from some of the nation’s top research institutions and hospitals, according to a study released on Wednesday.
The research team analyzed application data from two New England biomedical-research programs administered by the Medical Foundation Division of Health Resources in Action. The results were striking: The median start-up package for male scientists was $889,000, while the median for women was $350,000.
That means that women may not be getting the supplies and equipment needed to jump-start their careers, said Robert Sege, vice president of the Medical Foundation Division, who led the study. "I hope it will lead to institutions' beginning to take a more formal and systematic approach to how they develop start-up packages and how they monitor their own internal performance," Dr. Sege said.