Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Presenting Without a Net

The Chronicle of Higher Education
March 3rd, 2015

In an ideal world, whenever I was invited to give a talk or a lecture, it would go something like this:
I would spend a few weeks thinking about what I wanted to say. After a sufficient percolation period, I would sit at my computer and sweat out a complete draft.
Then I would spend months revising it, shoring up the structure, getting rid of ideas that didn’t fit, and dumping whatever seemed extraneous. I would add anecdotes, vivid images, and sparkling, funny phrases. I would hunt down -ly adverbs that seemed weak or lazy, and go on a search-and-destroy mission for needless this, that’s, and there’s. Finally, having driven myself crazy with perfectionist anxiety, I would tell myself I was ready.

Motivating Faculty to Teach Online

Inside Higher Ed
March 3rd, 2015

Online education continues to grow (though the breakneck pace seems to have slowed a bit of late) and an increasing number of college and university students want to take online courses. At the same time, faculty members seem reluctant to teach these courses.
This poses a conundrum for universities, and raises an important question: What, if anything, would make the prospect of teaching online more appealing to faculty? (In the first part in this series, I explored how MOOCs can encourage good -- and bad -- habits for professors.)
While pondering this question, I had the opportunity to work with a faculty member who is developing a MOOC. (MOOCs, for the uninitiated, are massive open online courses. They are created by faculty from various institutions and offered, usually for free, through outfits like Coursera, Udacity and EdX.) The faculty member’s enthusiasm for this project highlighted to me several advantages MOOCs have when it comes to motivating faculty interest in online teaching. It’s worth looking at what these advantages are and considering what they can teach us about faculty motivation to teach online.

'De-Tenure' Do-Over

Inside Higher Ed
March 3rd, 2015

It was there and then it wasn’t: the University of Tennessee System’s plan, announced in a news release, to “de-tenure” some faculty members as part of its new cost-savings strategy. While the university has backed down on that specific language amid faculty outcry -- focusing instead on a “comprehensive review” of existing tenure and posttenure review processes -- some Tennessee professors say any plan by any name to strip professors of tenure, especially one linked to financial, not academic issues, smells sour.
The “de-tenure” idea was proposed last week after Joe DiPietro, system president, outlined the framework for a new financial model to the Board of Trustees for the university system's five campuses.
“We are not insolvent or in financial ruin,” DiPietro told the board. “The only way to preclude tuition increases is to fix it ourselves. It is about maintaining quality and moving ahead. We will be a different organization in the next four to five years.”

Matching More With Less

Inside Higher Ed
March 3rd, 2015

The chancellor of the University of Wisconsin at Madison came under fire last month for publicly admitting to a tactic common among her counterparts at research universities. To keep top faculty members from accepting outside offers, she sometimes will reduce their teaching loads. Critics seized on Chancellor Rebecca Blank’s comments as an example of what’s wrong with higher education, saying that rewarding good professors by reducing their exposure to students was a kind of perverse incentive -- and an expensive one, to boot. But how fair is the criticism, and just how common and how bad -- if at all -- is the practice? It depends on whom you ask.
Blank’s comments came during an interview with The Wall Street Journal last month about Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s proposed $300 million higher education budget cuts and suggestion that faculty members teach more to offset the shortfall. The chancellor called the advice unrealistic, saying it demonstrated Walker’s “serious misunderstanding” about faculty workloads and management. As an example, she said that 15 percent of faculty members approach Madison’s administration each year with better offers from other colleges and universities, and that she sometimes reduces their course loads to convince them to stay.

Why Write a Book?

The Chronicle of Higher Education
March 3rd, 2015



In 1999, down in the sub-basement of the University of Minnesota library, I found the Exuviae Sacrae Constantinopolitanae, a 19th-century two-volume collection of medieval sources on the sack of Constantinople in 1204. Each of the sources told the story of the transportation of Christian relics from Constantinople to Western Europe. I was quickly riveted by the idiosyncrasies of the various accounts and wondered what they might reveal about the constructed memories of an important event.
So I wrote a short paper about the collection, then a long paper, then got a grant to look at the manuscripts, and eventually used the topic for my dissertation, which I defended in 2006. The next fall, I started a tenure-track job at a teaching-oriented small Roman Catholic university on the outskirts of Chicago. 


In 1999, down in the sub-basement of the University of Minnesota library, I found the Exuviae Sacrae Constantinopolitanae, a 19th-century two-volume collection of medieval sources on the sack of Constantinople in 1204. Each of the sources told the story of the transportation of Christian relics from Constantinople to Western Europe. I was quickly riveted by the idiosyncrasies of the various accounts and wondered what they might reveal about the constructed memories of an important event.
So I wrote a short paper about the collection, then a long paper, then got a grant to look at the manuscripts, and eventually used the topic for my dissertation, which I defended in 2006. The next fall, I started a tenure-track job at a teaching-oriented small Roman Catholic university on the outskirts of Chicago.
- See more at: https://chroniclevitae.com/news/925-why-write-a-book#sthash.eNY7knlv.dpuf

Talk of 'De-Tenure' Triggers Faculty Ire in Tennessee

The Chronicle of Higher Education
March 3rd, 2015

The University of Tennessee’s Board of Trustees has triggered suspicion among faculty members by calling for tenure policies to be reconsidered as part of a cost-cutting plan.
The system’s administration on Monday retracted from its summary of the plan language that had especially aroused faculty opposition—a reference to the potential "enacting of a de-tenure process."
The "de-tenure" reference had helped fan faculty outrage over the plan on Twitter and elsewhere. In a blog post about the plan, Chad Black, an associate professor of early Latin American history at the Knoxville campus, asked: "What in the world is a ‘de-tenure process,’ and what place does tenure, a bulwark of academic freedom and security for the risks of academic training and employment, have in a conversation on cutting costs and increasing revenues?"

Monday, March 2, 2015

Advice for Next Year's Chair

The Chronicle of Higher Education
February 23rd, 2015

This is the season when many an academic department is naming a new figurehead for the next academic year. If you’re one of the rookie managers, you are finding a real dearth of advice on how to do the job. Your institution may guide new chairs in the process of tenure and promotion, or on faculty hiring. And you might get some gentle schooling on annual reviews and the salary matrix, or lessons in "leadership." But you won’t get much in the way of a philosophical introduction to the work, broadly conceived, of the department chair.

The Dangerous Silence of Academic Researchers

The Chronicle of Higher Education
February 23rd, 2015

Three years ago, I was invited to testify before the New York City Board of Health about a proposed law to cap the portion size of sugary drinks served in restaurants. This request didn’t come as a surprise. After all, I had published several well-cited articles linking these beverages to childhood obesity. What did catch me off guard was my reaction: I was horrified at the thought of taking a public position for or against. I was reminded of that reaction when I read Andrew J. Hoffman’s recent essay in The Chronicle on how academics need to communicate with the public on a wide range of public-policy issues.
In my field, public health and nutrition, as in many other fields of science, presentations tend to be rich with data and discussions of limitations and caveats, almost always closing with the phrase "more research is needed." Testifying before the board of health, I would have no such options. Rather I would have five minutes to stake out a clear position. Yes, I believed, as did virtually all of my colleagues, that sugary drinks threatened people’s health, but was my belief sufficient to justify this policy action? Were a handful of longitudinal studies and two randomized control trials enough evidence?

Who Gets a Vote in Departmental Decisions?

The Chronicle of Higher Education
March 2nd, 2015

If there’s anything sadder in academe today than a blown hiring opportunity, it is the deterioration of professionalism in the wake of such a loss.
Last year my English department came apart at the seams over a national search that included an internal applicant and a sizable population of adjunct faculty members wanting a voice and a vote in the search. In the year since, our department’s decision making has been virtually paralyzed by a question that the controversy raised: Who should weigh in on personnel, curricular, and other matters of departmental governance?

Administrator Pay Up 2.4%

Inside Higher Ed
March 2nd, 2015

The median base salary for senior leaders at colleges and universities has gone up 2.4 percent in 2014-15, the same as the year before.
Also for the second year in a row, the gains for administrators at public institutions have slightly outpaced those at private institutions (2.5 percent to 2.3 percent this year and last). The prior two years, however, gains were greater at private institutions than at public ones.
These figures come from data being released today by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources.
The following bar chart shows the averages across titles in the survey for all institutions, public and private.

Professor as ISIS Target

Inside Higher Ed
March 2nd, 2015

ISIS has declared that a Rhodes College professor -- a key figure in American Islam -- is an apostate who deserves to be killed.
The call came in an article in Dabiq, the magazine of the extremist Islamic group ISIS. It attacks Muslim leaders who have criticized the recent murder of the people who worked at Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine. "There is no doubt that such deeds are apostasy, that those who publicly call to such deeds in the name of Islam and scholarship are from the du’āt (callers) to apostasy, and that there is great reward awaiting the Muslim in the Hereafter if he kills these apostate imāms..."

Accent on Bias

Inside Higher Ed
March 2nd, 2015

Rate My Professors is a student evaluation site that frustrates many professors, who say that the nonscientific standards leave faculty members open to unfair ratings.
Last month, a study documented the extent to which students use different sets of words (many of them with gender implications) to discuss their male and female professors. Now a new study looks at how students on Rate My Professors rate instructors who have Asian-sounding last names, and the results suggest that these instructors are getting significantly lower scores than those with other last names in Rate My Professors' categories of clarity and helpfulness.
The author of the study, who also examined comments students make about the instructors, said that his findings raise questions about whether American colleges and universities are as international in outlook at they boast of being -- and whether Asian instructors are being reviewed fairly. The study -- "She Does Have an Accent But" -- has just been published in the journal Language in Society (abstract available here).

3 Higher-Education Leaders Urge Lawmakers to Raise Research Funding

The Chronicle of Higher Education
March 2nd, 2015

Three higher-education leaders are urging federal lawmakers to repeal sequestration and increase research funding in the budget for the 2016 fiscal year.
In a letter on Friday, the presidents of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, the Association of American Universities, and the American Council on Education wrote that continued limits on federal investment in scientific research and higher education would threaten the position of the United States as the world’s top economic power. ”The solution to our continuing budget deficits lies not in discretionary spending cuts but in reforms to mandatory spending and taxation,” wrote Peter McPherson, Hunter R. Rawlings III, and Molly Corbett Broad, the respective leaders of the groups.

West Liberty U. Faculty Votes No Confidence in President Over Ethics Complaint

The Chronicle of Higher Education 
March 2nd, 2015

The Faculty Senate at West Liberty University has voted no confidence in its president after allegations that he used university resources to promote a film produced by his company, the CBS affiliate WTRF-TV reports. The West Virginia Ethics Commission is investigating accusations that Robin C. Capehart used several different university resources, including a television station and a credit card, to promote the 2011 film Doughboy, which was made by his company, Flyover Films. Mr. Capehart has denied the allegations.

Do Your Students Have Criminal Records? Is It Even Fair to Ask?

The Chronicle of Higher Education
March 2nd, 2015

Nearly three out of four colleges ask applicants a variation of the question most dreaded by those who have been on the wrong side of the law: Have you ever been convicted of a crime?
Some colleges are only concerned with violent felonies, others with misdemeanors or even high-school suspensions. And what they do with that information, ostensibly gathered only to keep their campuses safe, varies widely.
Relatively few reject students outright on the basis of criminal convictions, but many require those applicants to jump through so many hoops, gathering letters from probation officers and corrections officials, waiting additional months for committee deliberations, that the students give up.