Category Archives: Inside Higher Ed

Speak up for faculty (and students) at Mount Saint Mary’s University

By now you’ve likely heard the news from Mount Saint Mary’s University about their recently hired president’s plan to improve the university’s retention rates and the aftermath. I’ll summarize below in case you haven’t followed it. If you have but haven’t yet signed this petition to Mount Saint Mary’s University to reinstate two fired faculty members, we encourage you to add your name. It’s an important statement in support of colleagues whose due process and academic freedom have been violated as ominously as any time I can remember.

Here’s a nutshell version of Newman’s retention plan–

  1. Early in the fall semester, identify students who are at risk–academically, emotionally, financially–of leaving the institution.
  2. Encourage them to drop out as quickly as possible so that you never have to report them as matriculated.
  3. Ergo, improve retention by reducing the number of “dropouts.”

[It’s worth a minute to look at President Simon Newman’s background before we keep going. Notice anything missing? Any experience whatsoever with higher ed before being appointed as president of a university. Anywho….]

To make matters worse, President Newman had an email exchange with campus leaders in which he said some controversial (yes, that’s understatement) things, the most disturbing of which was:

“This is hard for you because you think of the students as cuddly bunnies, but you can’t. You just have to drown the bunnies … put a Glock to their heads.”

When that quote showed up in the Washington Post and Inside Higher Ed, the story suddenly became national (read: embarrassing). And when President Newman learned that two faculty members–one tenured, one tenure-track–had leaked emails (one of the faculty was the advisor to the student newspaper), he fired them without any hearings, investigations, or procedures whatsoever. Clearly, his fundamental ignorance about how universities work and what faculty do made it seem logical for him to fire people who were “disloyal” (his word).

This is why we fight to protect tenure (and due process for colleagues with/without tenure). Signing this petition is a simple way to help. Indirectly, it’s also a statement on behalf of students who spent a lot of time, money, and emotional energy committing to a school run by somebody with such profound disregard for their well-being that he could think, much less say, what he did.

PS: In case you’re curious, the president tried to identify students to “drown” via a survey (as reported in Inside Higher Ed) that will make your skin crawl if you know anything about privacy or research ethics.

[Updated 5 pm Fri: The university has announced that it will reinstate the fired faculty in hopes of beginning what the president and board call a healing process; the board has reaffirmed their support of the president. The fired tenured faculty member says he has no intention of returning to the university.]

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Filed under Academic Freedom, Access, free speech, Inside Higher Ed, Retention, Tenure, Uncategorized

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

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

The Campaign for the Future of Higher Ed issues its first report

I was going to write a post about this yesterday and didn’t. Fortunately, a new post just showed up on the State APSCUF blog that says what I would have anyway.

If you aren’t familiar with CFHE (Campaign for the Future of Higher Ed), it’s a consortium/think-tank comprised of higher ed faculty/advocates, many of whom represent the actual educator contingent of Higher Education (y’know, faculty), formed to advocate publicly for the value and importance of higher education in the face of continual, well-funded, often dishonest attacks against us.

APSCUF has been a key contributor to the organization and launching of this effort.

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Filed under Advocacy, APSCUF, CFHE, Inside Higher Ed, research

Start writing to President Obama and the DOE now

I don’t think anybody thinks it’s a good idea to raise tuition and make college unaffordable for students. However, President Obama’s announcement in the State of the Union the other week, and hearings happening in Senate committees already, suggest that the President doesn’t understand, or care about, the difference between tuition increases based on increasing costs, and increases based on collapsing state support. He needs to hear that message loud and clear.

Notice in this article from this morning’s (Feb 3) Inside Higher Education that nobody says a word about state support for public higher ed.

Senators Focus on Tuition Costs
February 3, 2012 – 3:00am

WASHINGTON — Members of the U.S. Senate’s education panel got a firsthand look Thursday at the president’s new higher education agenda, offering both bipartisan support and bipartisan expressions of concern.

At a hearing on college affordability before the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, lawmakers from both parties expressed agreement with President Obama’s assertion that tuition growth must be curtailed to maintain access to higher education, suggesting that college pricing is likely to be an election-year priority. But Democrats and Republicans alike tried unsuccessfully to pry loose more details about the president’s plan, and picked apart some aspects already made clear.

Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter testified but divulged no secrets about Obama’s Race to the Top-esque proposal for higher education, which would pay institutions that find ways to control tuition growth and increase value for students in much the same way the government rewarded states that improved their K-12 curriculums. Kanter said more information about funding for Obama’s plan will be released with the president’s 2013 budget proposal on Feb. 13.

While consensus emerged that college tuition can’t continue to increase unabated, opinions varied about the proper role of the federal government in stunting that growth. Sen. Richard Burr, Republican of North Carolina, said the free market can help determine what tuition prices are sustainable.

“Higher education is a great example of how the market place works,” he said. When tuition gets too expensive, he said, “people choose to go somewhere else.” (The hearing also featured testimony from officials of traditional two-year and four-year colleges talking about their efforts at innovation, and from advocates for alternatives such as Western Governors University.)

While those open-market principles are important to remember, Burr said, Congress sometimes has an important function in addressing college issues. “Where it’s appropriate for us to have a role,” he said, “I hope we play it.”

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, pushed for brisk action and clarity about the more specific steps the administration wants legislators to take. She said students are essentially taking out a mortgage to pay for college and aren’t always seeing a return on that investment.

“They don’t know whether they’re going to have equity or an albatross of debt,” she said. “We can’t keep this going.”

Wyoming Sen. Michael B. Enzi, the committee’s senior Republican, said that efforts to expand grants for low-income students have failed to stop tuition growth and prove that legislation can accomplish only so much.

“If we’ve learned anything in recent years,” he said, “it’s that the government cannot solve this problem.”

But Obama says that government-supported reform is imperative. He introduced his agenda during last month’s State of the Union address, telling colleges they were “on notice” and that they risked losing taxpayer support if they couldn’t control their costs and increase their educational value.

Perhaps sensing a popular cause to champion with an election looming, senators in both parties seemed eager to continue discussions on how to hold down college prices.  Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, promised more discussion on the subject.

“This,” he said, ” is the first of many hearings.”

Read more: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/02/03/senate-help-committee-hears-college-affordability-testimony#ixzz1lK6xuXDu
Inside Higher Ed

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Filed under Advocacy, APSCUF, Barack Obama, Budget, Budget Cuts, Budget Deficit, Corporate University, Education reform, Inside Higher Ed, PASSHE, Public education, Shock Doctrine

More on the debate about reframing the value of higher ed

Thanks to Mark Rimple (again!) for sending this piece to me for the blog.

From Friday’s Inside Higher Ed: Linda Grasso, an English Prof in the CUNY system, writes eloquently, or perhaps just prettily, about the need to reframe our arguments about the value of higher education, particularly the liberal arts. Her most elaborated evidence for her claim about the value of liberal arts education is an anecdote about a conversation she had on the subway who seemed to have been deeply effected by reading Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried in a college English course.

Commenters on Grasso’s essay make several points about the limited value of the anecdote, on both epistemological and rhetorical grounds; I won’t duplicate them here, except to say that you should look at them. They’re very revealing, not only of the complex task we face as we fight to reclaim what public higher education is about in this country, but also of the internal dynamic that makes the fight that much more complicated. Not everybody that works at a public university supports the vision(s) that liberal arts faculty have.

If we can’t even agree among ourselves about what we’re doing here, it’s no wonder we struggle to convince external constituencies to pay for us to do it.

Let’s remember who our friends are.

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Filed under Access, Advocacy, APSCUF, Budget, Budget Cuts, Budget Deficit, Corporate University, Inside Higher Ed, liberal arts, PASSHE, Shock Doctrine