Author Archives: sethkahn

About sethkahn

I'm a Professor of English (composition/rhetoric) at West Chester U of PA. Born and raised in Hotlanta, BA in History/Philosophy from Wake Forest U, MA in English (Comp/Rhet) from Florida State, PhD in Composition and Cultural Rhetoric from Syracuse U. Proud union thug. Played in a punk band called Three Chicks and a Jew.

Right to Know request from National Educational Services

Folks, just in case anybody wonders about the two emails from our Right to Know Compliance Office about the request for our salares, office numbers, phone numbers, and home addresses–revised today to allow us to opt into sharing that information rather than having to opt out–

The organization asking for that information is called National Educational Services, and the original request came from somebody named Janine Fye.

Following the lead of the English Department Secretary (thanks, Mary!) who had the good sense to Google the name, I did the same. NES appears to be a mixture of TIAA-CREF and AFLAC for educators; they offer insurance plans (life insurance, disability, disability supplemental, etc), retirement plans, help with fundraising campaigns on campuses, a whole swath of services. I don’t get any inkling they’re more evil or sinister than any other corporation that does what they do.

Once I learned this, I emailed VP Mixner to ask what their rationale for the RTK request is. He explained that it’s “internal research”; I’ve replied to that message asking if “internal research” means something else in legal-land than it does in research-land. They want information about people who don’t belong to their plans, which is about “external” as I can imagine. I just sent that message, but if anybody is curious about the response, ask and I’ll post it.

Anyway, the reason I’m posting this entry on the blog is so that if you’re trying to decide whether to “opt in” (re: Tuesday’s email about the revised RTK request), I figured you should have at least a dim idea of what you’d be “opting into.”

My opinion on the fact that our RTK people didn’t tell us that themselves? I’ll sit on that.

Oops, that probably gave me away, didn’t it?

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Filed under AFSCME, APSCUF, Follow the Money, Right to Know

If this is the first you’re hearing of this, surprise!

I’m reposting an article from this morning’s (Thurs) Inside Higher Ed in full. And without further comment unless people want to discuss it. Click the link to the original if you want to follow all their internal links. Otherwise, happy reading!

Creditworthy in the Keystone State
August 23, 2012 – 3:00am

Pennsylvania’s regional public universities are gearing up to serve more adult students, and will use prior learning assessment and stackable credentials to help meet that anticipated demand.

Work force development is a priority for the 14 universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, in part because they are often the only public game in town. Many lack nearby community colleges, especially the universities in the state’s central and northern regions,  so the four-year system sports a healthy suite of associate degrees and one-year certificates, along with the standard fare of bachelor’s degrees.

“We offer the best of both worlds,” says Christopher Reber, executive dean of Clarion University’s Venango College campus.

Those academic programs attract large numbers of nontraditional students, for whom the potential to earn credits for their learning outside of the classroom can be a big draw. The system already does prior learning assessment, but plans to expand through a new partnership with the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL). System officials expect students will seek and receive credits for learning on the job, from technical training programs, in the military or from other sources, including massive open online courses (MOOCs), according to John Cavanaugh, the system’s chancellor.

“We’re going to open it up to any kind of prior learning that people are bringing,” Cavanaugh says. However, he stresses that by working with CAEL, the system will be able to ensure that it issues credits for college-level learning that matches up with the system’s academic course offerings. “You’re still going to have to demonstrate that you’ve got the learning before that translates to credit.”

The Pennsylvania system will be perhaps the largest public university partner to sign on to Learning Counts, CAEL’s portfolio-based prior-learning service, an official at the council says. Through Learning Counts, students fork over $500 for an online course on how to put together a portfolio that collects and describes their prior learning. For an additional fee of $250, faculty experts review those submissions and can issue recommendations worth up to 12 credits.

However, not all colleges accept prior-learning recommendations, even if they come from CAEL, which is generally considered to be an industry leader. So the council has enlisted over 100 partner institutions that have agreed to defer to Learning Counts and issue full credit for successful portfolios. The Pennsylvania system is joining that group, Cavanaugh says.

Credit for MOOCs?

One reason many colleges are skittish about granting credits for prior learning is because to do so is to acknowledge that the academy doesn’t have a lock on college-level learning. Some faculty members also view the process warily, arguing that it can be an academically suspect money grab and a weak substitute for college.

Prior learning could also threaten professors’ jobs.

“It changes who generates the credits,” says Steve Hicks, an English professor at Loch Haven University and president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, the system’s primary union. “Potentially there’s a job loss there.”

Hicks says that representatives from the faculty union met with system officials about Learning Counts and prior learning. While he says they were “concerned” about the plan, they have yet to take a position on it.

Cavanaugh and other administrators defend their approach, and say chief academic officers have been busy vetting how prior-learning credits will align with curriculums. Furthermore, Cavanaugh says the system has long granted credit to students who take College Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests, which are administered by the College Board to measure college-level learning. So the portfolio approach isn’t such a stretch.

“The notion that this is credit for living is just not the case,” he says.

The system held lengthy discussions about whether it should grant credit for MOOCs, according to Cavanaugh. CAEL has predicted that many students will seek credit for MOOCs, and the council plans to include those courses in credit recommendations if students can demonstrate that they have received college-level learning. Eventually the system decided it was on board, as long as MOOC credit submissions receive the Learning Counts stamp.

“We fully expect to see people putting them in the portfolios,” says Cavanaugh.

Daniel Hurley praises the system’s plan to ramp up prior-learning assessment, and its proactive approach with new forms of online learning. Hurley, director of state relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, says the system and other regional publics can play a leading role in prior learning, in part because they enroll many students who might benefit from the process.

The system is also not alone in helping community colleges on work force development. Hurley says that 42 percent of the association’s members issue two-year degrees. “It’s really about meeting demand.”

Up the Ladder

It’s a long way from Edinboro University to the nearest community college — like two hours.

The university is close to Erie, where county leaders have pushed hard for a new two-year college. But that idea tanked last year, after a saga described in an Education Sector report. So the university decided it had to step up its technical job training options. This fall Edinboro will launch a new associate degree in applied technology.

But Edinboro’s evolving approach is more ambitious than just a few isolated academic offerings, says Julie E. Wollman, the university’s president. It is working with technical trade schools, most of them small for-profits with ties to local industries, to help students get credit for previously earned technical certificates when they enroll at Edinboro.

Sometimes students arrive at the university years after having attended a trade school.

“A lot of people get a certificate at one of those places and go right to a job,” Wollman says.

To advance in their careers, even jobs on the floor of a manufacturing plant, they often need the sort of training only a college can provide. Edinboro treats the prior learning students bring from their jobs and technical trade certificates as the core of their major, Wollman says. And they can earn up to 27 prior learning credits. Then the university offers students classes that help them bolster their communication, analytical, business and mathematics skills.

“What they’re bringing is the major,” she says. “What we’re really providing is the general education.”

An hour down the road, Clarion’s Venango campus has developed similar ways for students to enroll with credits from their work experience. And both institutions are designing their sub-baccalaureate credentials to be stackable, meaning students can complete a certificate or associate degree, leave to take a job, and then seamlessly return to continue working toward a bachelor degree.

Reber calls the approach a “ladder” of credentials. To create credit pathways at Clarion, his campus has collaborated with several technical institutions and employers, including the Precision Manufacturing Institute and FirstEnergy Corporation.

Clarion is also introducing online degree completion programs, including an associate in industrial technology and a bachelor’s in technology leadership. The online coursework is particularly handy for adult students who work full time. And it’s not surprising that students might prefer to keep their jobs and enroll online, rather than attending Clarion as traditional students. Some of the Venango campus’s employer partners pay a guaranteed $60,000 salary to associate-degree holders from the university, and will cover tuition for employees who finish their bachelor’s degree.

For Venango and Clarion, as well as for other universities in the system, one benefit of work place partnerships is a boost to enrollment. Located in Oil City, the campus is surrounded by an aging population, and adult workers are generally conscientious students.

“It’s a win-win,” Reber says.

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Filed under Access, APSCUF, Budget, Budget Cuts, Collective Bargaining, Corporate University, deliverology, Education reform, Inside Higher Education, MOOCs, on-line schools, PASSHE, Program elimination, Retrenchment, shared governance

REBLOG: “New Socialist Man” (Gin and Tacos)

I didn’t write this post, but I wish I had. The author of Gin and Tacos is a political science faculty member (changing jobs to somewhere in Illinois after a long stint as a visiting prof at the University of Georgia and a difficult time on the market). He does just about the most astute critique of the ousting of University of Virginia President Sullivan I’ve seen yet.

Just a taste:

She refused to acknowledge that a university is a Business and should be run as such, and she refused to eliminate the Classics department from the school founded by Thomas Jefferson. Other reported philosophical differences included resistance to expanding pedagogically useless but phenomenally profitable “online degree” programs that amount to little more than for-profit scams servicing corporate clients and adult learners who need a rubber stamp in order to advance professionally. For years the Right has decried touchy-feely Multicultural studies displacing the real canon of Western thought – Plato, Aristotle, Shakespeare, Adam Smith, and the like. Now it appears that the Business School and the Continuing Studies Online program are reflections of the true foundation of all Western thought – the Classics be damned.

Read the rest here….

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Filed under Corporate University, Higher Ed history, liberal arts, on-line schools, Program elimination, Sullivan, University of Virginia

They just never get tired of it

As we all know by now, Governor Corbett’s budget-slashing attacks aren’t aimed solely at PASSHE. He seems willing to destroy any school system at any level if doing so hurts teachers’ unions and allows his private/charter school patrons to make more money.

This account of the situation in nearby Reading, PA from today’s Huffington Post is enough to infuriate even the most heartless person–except members of the Corbett administration, apparently.

As always, the Governor, in a radio interview, tries to pass off the attacks as “tough decisions”:

Representatives from Corbett’s office did not return requests for comment, but Corbett did address the budget on a recent radio program. “You have to make tough decisions, and nobody really likes them,” Corbett told Q106.9-FM.

No, it’s not a tough decision to sell off our schools, systems, students, their families, their futures, teachers, their careers, and the health of our entire Commonwealth to his friends. That’s a really easy, lazy decision, and it’s long past time for him to be at least honest about it. He should have to make clear to voters that he knows when they voted for “fiscal responsibility,” they weren’t voting for him to cut millions of dollars out of school budgets so kids in “America’s Poorest City” couldn’t go to pre-kindergarten. And we should make clear to him that’s not what we meant too.

I better stop there before I say something unprofessional (!).

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Filed under Access, Budget, Budget Cuts, Budget Deficit, charter schools, Collective Bargaining, Communities, Education reform, K-12 Education, PASSHE, Privatization, Public education, Public employee unions, public employees, Shock Doctrine, Teacher unions, Tom Corbett, Unions

APSCUF-WCU President on Anti-Union Attacks in Education

APSCUF-WCU President Lisa Millhous published this guest column in today’s (June 7) West Chester Daily Local News.

She makes several crucial points, at the core of which is the point that, especially in PA, attacking teacher and other public unions is almost all a diversion from the Governor’s (and his allies’) agenda–selling off public K-16 education to whichever bidder contributes the most to their campaigns. Dr. Millhous doesn’t put the point quite so belligerently, of course, nor should she have!

If you have the stomach for it, feel free to engage the anti-union thugs who tend to populate Comments sections of newspapers and websites. Or, let them have their echo-chamber to themselves since there’s probably not much you can say that will sway them.

Either way, share this piece with anybody you think needs to understand what anti-teacher-union attacks are really about. It ain’t about teachers or students, folks.

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Filed under APSCUF, charter schools, Corporate University, Education reform, K-12 Education, PASSHE, Private higher education, Privatization, Public education, Public employee unions, public employees, Shock Doctrine, Teacher unions, Tom Corbett, Unions

Governor Corbett to receive lifetime achievement award for… Education!

No words I can utter in a semi-professional public forum.

Just read this blog entry, cry, scream, and send messages to the Pittsburgh Opera.

 

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Filed under Public education, Tom Corbett

On Whether University Presidents Can Afford to Take Overtly Political Stances

Kevin Kiley in today’s (May 2) Inside Higher Ed considers the firing of LSU’s President Lombardi, ostensibly for taking stances that were politically contentious–opposing Gov. Bobby Jindhal’s budget-slashing and governance-shifting maneuvers, and so on.

There’s so much I’d like to say about why this is relevant to our current situation as faculty (and students and staff and managers) at WCU, but the article says most of it.

All I’ll add is this. If upper management isn’t going to defend us from attacks by idealogues whose purpose is to denigrate (or even kill) public higher education, or from the education reform [sic] cabal the major goal of which is to privatize and commercialize public education for their own profit, then we have to do it ourselvesThe time to sit by and wait for our leadership to lead is over. 

I can understand why Inside Higher Ed wouldn’t make that argument for us.

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Filed under Access, Advocacy, APSCUF, Budget, Budget Cuts, CFHE, Collective Bargaining, Corporate University, Education reform, Inside Higher Ed, PASSHE, Private higher education, shared governance, Tom Corbett

A non-presidential post from Steve Hicks

Sometimes even the most official officers need to say things that they prefer not to have attached to their offices. [OK, I’m done with that riff!]

Since the state APSCUF blog has rules, particularly governing length of posts, I wanted to offer this forum to Steve to say some things that aren’t within that limit. So here ya go. You can read the original version here. Or here:

Over the past week plus “at APSCUF” (which is less of a place than a state of mind — sort of), quite a bit of time has been spent looking at PASSHE’s new system of performance funding, which goes into effect this fall.  New in this system is a series of optional choices for the universities.  One of those — under “Stewardship” — is “Instructional Productivity.”

(Digressive paragraph) Several times at this weekend’s APSCUF Legislative Assembly, faculty went to the microphone to tell us “that’s a horrible term, don’t use it.”   One speaker suggested, strongly, that we use “workload” instead, because “that’s what it is.”  The problem with all this argument about terminology is that it isn’t “our” (as in faculty or APSCUF’s) language, it is PASSHE’s language, codified in PASSHE documents, approved by PASSHE’s Board of Governors (in January 2011), and used in all the documents forwarded by the Dixon Center for universities to use in determining their performance indicators.  They will continue to use it, no matter what we call it.

(Back to central point) This discussion of instructional productivity, er workload, centers on numbers from the state system showing the average CalUP faculty member generates 758 credit hours per year.  That’s #1 in the system by almost 2 standard deviations — next is Slippery Rock at 652.  Cheyney is lowest at 469.  At Assembly our most knowledgeable person said that Carnegie II.A institutions have an average of 589 — which is East Stroudsburg’s average (they rank 9th in the system, telling you how well we do; our unweighted average is 599).

Should instructional productivity be a performance indicator?  Probably not.  But our best early analysis of the options to university managers is that this is one they will all pick.  It is one that is clearly attainable (many other options seem unattainable).

This morning on *CBS Sunday Morning* they had a piece on college costs.  They interviewed the president and a student from Sarah Lawrence, amongst others — the most expensive college in the country, according to the story — and both talked about how the personalized attention from faculty was the great attraction of the university.  The president said it wasn’t faculty salaries that drove their price so high, but the fact they had to hire LOTS of faculty to keep that small class experience.

The point was made on the Assembly floor that CAL no longer can claim that kind of experience.  758 represents an average of 21 students in EVERY class CAL offers.  Of course, that would mean that EVERY faculty member teaches 12 courses, that no one has any release time to run a program, chair a department, do research…which we know isn’t true.

It means that every student sits in a class with a lot of other students — not Sarah Lawrence.  What it IS like is Penn State — a comparison made on the floor as the 758 number is almost exactly what the behemoth university in State College has as their average, too.  Although we hate it, WE ARE PENN STATE!

This is where we are in public higher education in Pennsylvania, and the US, today.  In the *New York Times* today, Frank Bruni cites an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development statement: Thirty years ago, the U.S. led the world in the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds with the equivalent of at least a two-year degree; only Canada and Israel were close.  As of 2009, the U.S. lagged behind 14 other developed countries.”  We don’t generate the number of degrees we need to stay with, let alone ahead, of the rest of the world because we make higher education both unaffordable and inaccessible.

How?  By defunding higher ed, both in Pennsylvania and across the country.  Last year PASSHE took an 18% cut in funding from the state; we’ve been asked to give back 5% more this year; and for 12-13 the current proposal from the Governor is a 20% cut.  This is after what even the State Senate  Appropriations Committee has admitted has been at least a decade of defunding.  Tuitions have risen and PASSHE’s Board and then the universities have responded with higher tuition AND a cut in their needed expenditures (it’s known in budget-tuition talk around the System as “the Gap” — the difference between the income from tuition and state appropriation and the real cost to sustain the current apparatus — and it’s been over $20 million every year I’ve been state APSCUF president).  It’s a squeeze from both ends.

This squeeze leads to more “productivity,” which, yes, means more faculty workload.  There’s no one else to squeeze in an academic institution: there are only so many copiers, paperclips, and backroom workers.  The real business is students and faculty.  Though you’d be surprised how little of an institution’s budget is actually for that part of the business (one set of numbers makes it to be in the 20-30% range and declining annually).   Classes grow, faculty have more students, the way we teach changes.

Who wants to go to college to sit in a large class, or sit in their dorm on their laptop in “distance” learning, or go to college where no one connected to the university even acts like they want to know their name?  College education is a labor intensive exercise.  As the labor economist from George Washington University said, we haven’t found a way to make it anything but labor intensive.

It serves no one to be more productive at some point: even an English professor (like me) understands the rudiments of the law of diminishing returns.  There’s a reason that all the PASSHE institutions have long advertised themselves to students (who are either the consumers or the product in the productivity model — that one can’t tell says much about how well the model applies) as familiar, know-your-name, private school model institutions.  No one has ever said “we are and want to be like (Carnegie) research (i) institutions, with large lecture halls and grad students in front of smaller classes.”

Cal has reached the point of diminished returns.  PASSHE should be careful about walking the other 13 institutions in their footsteps, given their current financial state.

Our students deserve quality education.  They deserve personalized attention.  They deserve a real opportunity to become what they want to become, not the plumber or carpenter that is the Corbett Administration concentration (which is NOT what students who choose to go to college want to do).

Using instructional productivity to distribute dollars and to show who is performing best will not have a positive outcome.

We all deserve better.

— Steve

 For what it’s worth, I couldn’t agree more–except for one thing. While Steve is certainly correct that PASSHE uses the term instructional productivity to describe, um, whatever it’s describing by using a term that means nothing, I was one of the people on the floor of the Legislative Assembly cheering the call to reject the term as often and loudly as possible.
Of course, that might be why I’m not President of anything. And that might be for the best.
–Seth

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Filed under Access, Advocacy, APSCUF, Budget Cuts, CFHE, Collective Bargaining, Corporate University, deliverology, Education reform, Inside Higher Ed, Instructional Productivity, Office of the Chancellor, PASSHE, Penn State University, Performance Funding, Privatization, Tom Corbett

Other than the fact that’s already started, Mike the Mad Biologist is just right about this

Mike the Mad Biologist is one of my favorite progressive bloggers. He’s a research scientist somewhere in Boston with a strong interest in K-College public education; I’ve been reading him regularly for a couple of years now.

In this post from today (Sat), Mike traces the pathway that rightwing campaigns usually take: a think tank produces a report, Fox News and the Wall Street Journal “legitimize” it, lobbyists and other goons get hold of it, while the astroturf/grassroots generates public support for it.

Mike sees this happening to public higher ed this summer. Read the post. It’s bone-chilling and entirely believable. Although we’re not the UC system, we’ll be in the crosshairs of this too, as soon as PA legislators get wind of it.

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Filed under ALEC, APSCUF, CFHE

Let’s hope this isn’t precedent setting

Not the news I wanted to wake up to on an otherwise pleasant Thurs morning. In today’s Inside Higher Ed, a story about a unionized cadre of part-time instructors (the union is an AFSCME affiliate) at the City Colleges of Chicago who have ratified a contract including merit pay for “student outcomes” (read: standardized test results); the merit pay replaces their longevity raises.

I’m willing to listen to the union’s explanation for why they accepted this, but the way it’s reported in this story isn’t very convincing. And any educational plan that Rahm Emmanuel endorses is probably horrible.

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Filed under Access, Advocacy, AFSCME, Collective Bargaining, Contingent faculty, Inside Higher Ed, merit pay, Public education