Friday, December 22, 2006

The Semester Has Come to an End

It seems a good time to reflect on what I have been posting about over the past few months, as so many others are going as the year comes to a close.

The big story of the semester was, of course, the visit of Kevin Barrett to campus. We had a lively exchange of views in many different forums about both his views and the appropriateness of the invitation. I was even called a McCarthyite, which was a first for me.

The Barrett Brouhaha raised many important questions, but the most signifant was the question of academic freedom. I am left with more questions than answers. Tony Palmeri and Miles Maguire insisted that academic freedom must encompass all aspects of our activities at the university. I am inclined to see it as more limited, in that it should apply to our research agendas.

The other major theme running through the semester was our student experience. The furor generated by the adminstration's announcement of a new course for first-year students led to a broad discussion. If you include our sub-par scores on NSSE and the on-going question of grade inflation, these posts dominated the semester.

Again, big questions remain. How can we transform our institution from UW-zero to one where students focus on education? Is it even possible as our classes get larger and tuition increases? Can we overcome the societal pressures that see only the diploma and an appropriate job as what we stand for?

These are both issues that we need to discuss as a campus community. I hope that this blog has helped some in that respect. My counter suggests that about 60 people a day stop by.

I enjoy the blog, so I'll keep doing it next year. Everyone enjoy their break!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

State Universities Price out Poor

The New York Times today reports (reg required) on the trend among flagship public universities to attempt to raise their national stature. Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of the poor. To do it, many are raising tuition and focusing on the rich kids.

UWO doesn't fit the profile, but the entire state of Wisconsin is moving in that direction. The state legislature and governor don't seem to believe that education above 12th grade is a public good that needs public support.

Read on . . .

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Next Big Controversy: Affirmative Action?

The Journal-Sentinal is running a story today about the brewing battle between the UW and legislators over affirmative action.

UW system is moving toward something called "wholistic" admissions that will take into account many different features of a persons situation during admissions decisions.

Ward Connerly, a Californian opposed to any differential policies toward admissions, will testify in Madison against the policy.

My own feeling is that it would be nice if society were race and class blind and we didn't have to worry about these things. The fact is that we are not. Racism and discrimination is deeply embedded in our society and history. To pretend that is does not exist will make it worse. In order to make sure everyone has a chance, a student's circumstances must be taken into account.

On top of that, standardized testing is a piece of junk. It has been shown time and time again that it is deeply biased in favor of rich, white kids. To base admissions decisions only on numbers is to create a highly distorted student body that will not serve the public interest.

I probably should say more on this controversial topic, but it is back to grading. . . .

Friday, December 15, 2006

Tenure is almost gone

The AAUP reported this week that the percentage of tenure track faculty in the U.S. is dropping like a rock.

Here at UWO, we already have lowest ratio of tenure-track to non-tenure track teaching faculty in the system. We are leading the way toward a system of education where over paid professional administrators make the decisions to be carried out by a large number of underpaid, temporary adjuncts.

It sounds like the Walmart model!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

College professors still respected by public

College Professors are not losing public respect, according to a recent gallup poll. I was surprised to see that we did so well. The results show that we are given ratings for honesty and ethics on par with the clergy (though I have to admit there is some irony in that).

The figures show that 58% of those polled rate us very high or high for our ethics. Only 7% rated us low or very low. The charts also give a bit of historical breakdown, showing that these numbers are slightly better than they were in the early 1990s.

I would have expected that with all of the bad press that we have been getting from Horowitz, Nass, and others that our ratings wouldn't have held up.

This is definitely good news for our profession and higher education in general!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Faculty Advocacy Committee criticizes Northwestern editorial

This morning's Northwestern contained a letter signed by five faculty members, who call themselves the faculty advocacy Committee. In their letter, they make a very nice argument as to why the claim that the university's sick leave policy is not at all extravagant.

I looked in my email and discovered that the Faculty Senate created this committee and is looking for more people to join in its work. Their mandate:

1. to react to criticisms that are lodged against the state University or its faculty
2. to publicize the good things tha
t faculty do.

This sounds like a very important job for our community. We have little public voice, so this committee can only help.

Anyway, here is the letter:

UW health benefits earned, not out of line

On Dec. 1 the Northwestern ran an editorial asking state legislators to stop their unfair attacks on the University of Wisconsin. We agree that this would be a positive step.

Unfortunately, this editorial also contained its own unfair attack.

You not only suggested that the UW's sick leave program was "overly generous" but you also stated that it amounts to us having our "hand caught in the cookie jar." Sadly, this language portrays all of us at the University, from maintenance people to professors, as cheats.

We wish the paper would tone down its rhetoric too.

If University employees get decent health care coverage, it shouldn't be used to stoke public resentment against them. And it shouldn't be used as an excuse to suggest that our benefits be scaled back. If anything it should be used as a model for what hard working people should be able to expect from their jobs. These are the kind of benefits that we hope our students can get with a good college education.

There are good reasons to be allowed to convert unused sick days to health care benefits. This is why many corporations offer this very policy. They recognize that it discourages absenteeism.

The "use it or lose it" policy the paper endorsed would encourage more frequent absences. So beware of what you wish for if you really think that we are cheaters.

There are no substitute teachers at the University. When we take sick days we have to make up the work on our own time and we lose a portion of our retirement benefits. That doesn't seem like an overly generous policy to us.

James Chaudoir, Don Hones, Tom Lammers, Al Lareau, David Siemers, Stephanie Stewart UW Oshkosh Faculty Advocacy Committee

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Republicans will continue to attack UW system

Steve Nass, second to none in his venom toward the UW system, was chosen by state Republicans to chair the assembly committee that oversees colleges and universities.

This is an obvious signal that Republicans will continue to try to use attacks on higher education to further their election campaigns. Nass has been one of the most irrational UW haters in the state and has been given a prominent seat to continue his nonsense.

The Republican leader of the assembly says the appointment is because UW officials "gloated" over the loss of the other UW hater, Rob Kreibich. It is good to see that there is no pettiness among the losers.

The article then has the speaker of the house say that "suggestions that one party was better for the System were ill-advised."

How could any rational person come to any other decision? Instead of seeking to work with us to improve higher education by choosing some one who is less of an anti-intellectual, he picked the most outspoken crank in Madison.

Now instead of being able to ignore this crackpot, we are all going to have to deal with his ridiculous assertions for years to come!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Free tuition for 10 years in Wisconsin

The Journal Sentinel reports this morning that a state commission is considering a proposal that would offer free tuition to UW schools in exchange for a commitment to stay in WI for 10 years after graduating.

The argument is that Ireland instituted this kind of policy and has now become the most dynamic economy in the EU.

This does seem like a fun, radical way to help higher education here, but practically I can't see it happening. Would a large number of college graduates who have promised not to leave bring us additional high quality jobs? Or would we instead be caught with a large number of underemployed, bitter young people?

I think it might be a great way to reinvigorate our state before all the manufacturing jobs slip away. What does everyone else think?

Friday, December 08, 2006

Chancellor sympathizes with LGBTQ, calls for more study

After the demonstration on campus this week, where Petra Roter (unexcitedly, I hear) joined the protesters by holding a sign, the Chancellor has issued another campus announcement. In it, he discusses possible changes on campus to address the problem and then promises starting a study to be carried out next year.

Apparently, having a professor and others roughed up on campus doesn't add up to a real problem. We need to do a survey, which will take a year or so, before a new policy can be discussed. Here is the message:

Last Wednesday night, we, along with other key administrators, met with members of our campus LGBTQ community and allies. This listening session, organized in part by the LGBTQ Council and the Rainbow Alliance for HOPE, examined issues of harassment and identified ways to ensure a safer and more respectful and inclusive campus environment.

We heard from students, staff and faculty how members of our campus LGBTQ community are targets of harassment and physical and emotional abuse. Individuals described the day-to-day bigotry and harassment that they have experienced or observed because of their sexual orientation. Students described how they did not feel comfortable going to class and how some are seriously considering leaving UW Oshkosh. There was a feeling by many of those in attendance that they were not welcome on this campus.

We discussed suggestions as to how our campus could become a safer and more welcoming place for LGBTQ students, faculty and staff. Suggestions included a range of actions, such as: training campus leaders, faculty and staff; developing a bias incident reporting mechanism; streamlining and improving reporting and grievance processes to increase reporting and better response time; enhancing and recharging the campus Diversity Alliance to address issues of campus climate; and developing a LGBTQ Resource Center.

We have already begun to review these suggestions and action steps and will work with the LGBTQ Council to move these and other recommendations forward. We have also recommended the development and implementation of a University-wide campus climate study. UW Oshkosh, with the assistance and support of the UW System, has committed to be one of the first institutions in the System to conduct a comprehensive climate study during the 2007-08 academic year.

Initially, key campus leaders will participate in SAFE (Students Staff and Faculty for Equality) training. This training educates participants regarding the challenges and issues facing LGBTQ faculty, students and staff, as well as advocates for a safe environment for all its members regardless of sexual and gender identities. A plan will be put in place to expand the availability of this program to all members of the campus community.

We are a campus whose core values embrace diversity and inclusivity. We support an atmosphere in which civility, tolerance and respect should be afforded to all. Whenever one member of our community is a victim of harassment or hate, it has an effect on all the members of our community.

Mahatma Gandhi said, �Once one assumes an attitude of intolerance, there is no knowing where it will take one. Intolerance is violence to the intellect and hatred is violence to the heart.� As a campus, we want once again to reiterate that actions of intolerance and hate, or elements that create an unsafe or inhospitable environment for LGBTQ and other members of our community, will not be tolerated. We ask that each of you re-affirm your commitment to the University�s core value of diversity and inclusivity and act accordingly.

Richard H. Wells Lane Earns Petra Roter
Chancellor Provost Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Oshkosh Fails Again for Student Engagement

The Advance-Titan reported today that student ratings on the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) were below the averages for the rest of the UW system again this year.

We have done poorly everytime this survey has been given. The administration is touting the fact that results improved a bit from earlier years, but it still sounds pretty dismal.

Art Rathjen, the new development guy, has been telling everyone who will listen that our graduates often express deep dissatisfaction with their experience here and could not imagine sending their own children to us.

NSSE shows that we are creating a new generation that will not think any better of us.

Petra Roter seems to think (in the article) that all we need is a freshmen experience course to solve this problem. If only it were that simple!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Junior Faculty Grievances

As I glanced at my calendar this afternoon, I realize there was a meeting discussing a survey given to young faculty earlier this semester.

Unfortunately, I didn't go. Did anyone? What do the younger faculty members think about this institution?

As one of those who hasn't been here very long, I would have to say I am fairly satisfied with UWO. I have great colleagues and a supportive environment.

My biggest grievance would have to be the finances, which are only partly in our hands. We have significantly lower salaries than other institutions and are unable to fill the dozens of open positions on campus.

Now if I could only get the students to talk in class . . .

Any grievances out there? On what should we be focusing our attention?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Horowitz and Berube have lunch

Here is a story from the Chronicle of Higher Education about inviting David Horowitz and Michael Berube to have lunch together.

As I read the article, I have trouble deciding whether it is real or a work of imagination. I enjoyed it anyway!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Academic Indoctrination: Does intro Econ push students to the right?

This article raises the question as to whether the way economics is taught today is inherently biased. The economic model of the Chicago school emphasizes efficiency over fairness. Survey courses teach students that this is the highest value and should triumph over any other thoughts.

This debate has been all over the blogosphere for a while now, and generally asks whether economics has become ideologically driven. Should one accept this model as the best for society?

Practically, the free-market model is being rejected all over the world--yesterday's resounding reelection of Hugo Chavez demonstrates that.

In the academy, is economics our answer to those right-wing critics. Every student gets their free-market propaganda in Econ 101? Does it balance out the claimed biases in English or History?

Friday, December 01, 2006

Editorial full of faint praise

The Northwestern ran an editorial today, supposedly happy that legislators didn't take too many ridiculous shots at the UW system at a committee meeting yesterday.

The editorial equates faculty members "failure" to use sick leave with that of the legislators, when it is clearly not true (if you read the article in the Journal-Sentinel last week.)

However, most disturbingly, they talk of returning to "middle ground." I have no idea what that means. The UW haters down in Madison falsely accuse us of all sorts of things. We have made no such accusations against them. They slice our budget year after year. We adapt as best we can to keep providing a quality educational experience to our students. Now, we are supposed to change??

A sensible legislature and government should be willing to undertake a civil discussion with system administrators and the various campuses. Reilly and the others have bent over backwards not to descend to the level of the attackers.

With the new shape of politics in Madison, the elected officials will hopefully listen carefully to our arguments, instead of dismissing them out of hand. Instead of looking to see how they can gain easy publicity attacking higher education, perhaps they will pay attention to the data that makes it clear that we are key to the state's future.

How is that meeting in the middle? The Northwestern should call for the legislature to leave its inflammatory irrationalism behind and return to being reasonable.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Academic Blogging

The Chronicle of higher education has a story about a few sites that are trying to catalogue the academic bloggers out there.

The new site is a wiki, organized by Crooked Timber. The article also makes reference to

I think I'll go register and see if I can get on the lists. . . .

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Legislatures fail across the country

An astute reader submitted this brief story from the Washington Post.

It reports that a bipartisan panel argues that legislatures across the country have failed in their responsibility to provide high-quality college education for all citizens.

We know that this is true here in Wisconsin. The legislature and our "education" governor have used the UW system and tuition dollars to balance the state budget. I am afraid that it will happen again. I have noted often how poorly our state is doing.

It is good to see others making the same argument.

Here are some other stories, courtesy of UW system in the news site:
Chronicle of Higher

Christian Science Monitor

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Civility in the Classroom

CNN has posted the story of a management professor at Drake U. who is selling lessons on how professors can create a better classroom atmosphere.

The work apparently focuses on technological issues--what to do with cell phones, laptops, etc.--but also provides a few guidelines:

  • Establish credibility by telling students how they will benefit from taking the class.
  • Decide how formal or informal the class will be.
  • Set clear expectations and enforce them.
  • On the first day of class, emphasize its importance by giving an assignment that students must turn in at the next class.
  • Handle discipline problems immediately.

  • Are there those among us who do not do these things? It strikes me as simple common sense, but it sounds as though the author is making big bucks leading campus seminars.

    Tuesday, November 21, 2006

    Scientists get serious in fight with religious zealots

    The New York Times reports (reg. required) on a forum in California where prominent non-religious scientists gathered to discuss why we are losing the war with the Christianists, who insist that much of what science has uncovered in the last century violates the teachings of the bible.

    We have our own local crackpot still at work, though I haven't seen her in front of the library lately, so we know that the zealots are on our own campus. . . .

    Monday, November 20, 2006

    What happened to faculty governance? interviews Mary Burgan, the author of a new book about the faculty's role in running the universities. She argues that it has all but disappeared. The interview is interesting and very relevant to us here. She touches upon the negative stereotypes that have caused us to become such a target in popular culture. She also argues that if we want to overcome this, we need to rededicate ourselves to guiding our institutions.

    UWO is a poster-child institution for loss (did we ever have any power?) of faculty involvement in the direction of the university. We have seen countless examples of the administration proposing policies and then expecting us to approve them.

    While it seems that the first-year course momentum has slowed, and the committee members insist that it is off the table, it is only a small part of the larger accretion of power by the non-academic bureaucracy over in Dempsey.

    Has anyone ever counted the number of people who work over there and shuffle the papers that (they think) make the world go round?

    Thursday, November 16, 2006

    WI drives away LGBQT scholars

    The AP ran a story today about how the constitutional ban on non-traditional marriage is causing people to think about leaving the state and UW system. UW Madison Chancellor Wiley held a listening session where he heard the concerns of those affected by the amendment.

    This amendment is a real black eye for WI, and will make it even more difficult to convince the best scholars to come here. Below average pay and overt discrimination (and assault) always creates an inviting atmosphere!

    Wednesday, November 15, 2006

    Legislature in PA finds no prof. bias

    In the continuing saga of David Horowitz's assault on higher ed, a legislative committee in Pennsylvania has been holding hearings about the "mistreatment" of conservative students on their university campuses.

    The committee could not find any problems. Here is the AP story.

    I wonder if PA state politics swung back to the middle, as here in WI. The committee sure dumped this albatross in a hurry after the election.

    Tuesday, November 14, 2006

    Administration issues statement about campus harrassment

    The administration today sent out this statement about the attack on Sibelman and others on campus before the Nov. 7 election.

    It is a nice gesture, but it seems not to address the depth of anger within the LGBTQ community that has been expressed in comments. As the Northwestern reported, the investigation into the crimes reported here earlier have reached an impasse.

    It seems to me that we should be taking more signficant, affirmative action to make it clear that we do not share the bigoted attitudes of a majority of the voters in our state. We should make it clear that we are not going to allow either violent or casual harrassment occur on our campus.

    I have posted the letter below:

    November 14, 2006


    The passage by Wisconsin voters on November 7th of a constitutional amendment defining marriage and banning civil unions has had a significant impact on the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) individuals, and it could potentially create tensions and problems that would have a negative effect on our campus climate.

    Preceding the recent election, some incidents were reported of inappropriate conduct, including harassment, toward LGBTQ members of our campus community and their allies. Even if only a few individuals are to blame for the regrettable actions and conduct, we all share responsibility for addressing the harm inflicted and for seeking to prevent its recurrence. Any actions that create an inhospitable or hostile environment for LGBTQ people will not be tolerated.

    Our University’s anti-discrimination policies and complaint procedures provide an avenue for the investigation of allegations of inappropriate conduct. ( ). We urge all individuals who have concerns about how they have been treated to file a report with the University. The University’s administration will vigorously act to address all allegations that are presented through these means.

    At this time, members of our LGBTQ community are concerned that they are being targeted and that they are an invisible minority whose concerns are not being addressed. We want to assure LGBTQ people that their security and safety is, in fact, a campus priority. Toward this goal, harassment or actions that create an unwelcoming environment for LGBTQ people will be promptly investigated. Disciplinary action will be taken when deemed necessary.

    Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people contribute positively to the life of our university. They are our colleagues, professors, instructors, staff members, and students. We ask the entire University community to affirm that one of our core values is the support of diversity and inclusivity.

    Richard H. Wells Lane Earns Petra Roter
    Chancellor Provost Vice Chancellor, Student Affairs

    Monday, November 13, 2006

    2006 NSSE results

    NSSE released their summary results of the 2006 survey today. I want to mention two of the most troubling:

    • Students average only about 13-14 hours a week preparation for class
    • Students study far less than they expect during their first year

    As I perused my old email, I missed a meeting at the provost's summit about our own NSSE results, so hopefully we know specifically about how these general numbers relate to our own.

    These two strike me as suggestive that we are missing a huge opportunity with our first-year students. (And it is a pattern that those of us who teach them have seen). They come to school with a vision of hard work and challenge. That is lost by the end of the first semester, when they have become jaded by lack of challenge and a culture of drunkenness.

    Susan McFadden and gang are supposedly studying this option, but it is in the context of the administration-approved course.

    I don't think that a First year experience course will do it. Instead, we need to raise our standards and expectations across the board. If students learn that they need to work hard to get through college, we might see a wave of improvement here on campus. Do to this, however, demands more than a band-aid of a new "training course" on top of huge pit classes.

    Friday, November 10, 2006

    Background checks coming to UWO?

    I was browsing Frank Church's email this morning and I noticed that the UW Madison faculty senate had voted against a new policy ordering background checks of employees. As the article notes, the regents are hell-bent on checking every new employee, after the "scandal" of last spring when 40 ex-cons were found on the payroll.

    Outside of the due-process issues raised by the UW fac. senate (which makes sense to me), it strikes me as a hugely wasteful initiative. At this time of very scarce resources, the money and personnel needed to check the thousands of UW employees is not money well spent.

    After the "audit" last spring, they turned up NOT ONE PERSON who was a problem or who would fit this vaguely defined criteria of this proposal. Thus, system administrators are creating more paperwork and cost to solve a problem that does not exist.

    Bureaucracy has a momentum all its own. After the orders came down, this steamroller was set in motion and will soon suck up more of our valuable assets.

    Perhaps now that the political situation has changed slightly in Madison, some more sensible minds can rethink this unnecessary policy.

    Wednesday, November 08, 2006

    Election 2006: Good news for UWO

    Yesterday's elections will surely be a good thing for UWO and the UW system for the next few years. There are two particularly good results for us:

    1: One of our own, Gordon Hintze, was elected to the State Assembly. Instead of having a representative like Underheim who condescendingly attacked us on campus last year, we have someone who knows how the university operates. I hope that he will become a strong voice in favor of protecting spending on higher education when those highway guys show up asking for hundreds of millions!

    2: Rob Kreibich, a Republican from Eau Claire, lost. He was one of the most vocal anti-UW legislators in the assembly who never missed an opportunity to bash us for political gain. I don't know what circumstances led to his defeat, but we can be very glad it happened.

    Let us hope that a more balanced assembly and senate will lead to more reasoned discussions about higher education in Wisconsin and not the kind of anti-college diatribes that dominated the last five years!

    Tuesday, November 07, 2006

    A lighter note: Bigfoot and Academic Freedom

    CNN is running a story today about a researcher at Idaho state who is studying bigfoot.

    As you can read in the article, he is something of an embarrassment to others on that campus.

    Maybe the campus greens can invite him to speak, and start a series.

    Monday, November 06, 2006

    Professor assaulted on campus!

    A letter to the editor by Simon Sibelman in the Northwestern revealed that he was 'physically assaulted' on campus by three men who objected to the fact that he was wearing a Vote No on the constitutional amendment button.

    I hope that there will be an investigation. Who were these thugs? Where were the campus police? If he reported this crime, why haven't we heard about it before? If not, what sort of climate reigns on campus that he didn't feel it would do any good?

    A campus republican gets a story in the Northwestern for a spurious death threat, but a professor gets assaulted and there is nothing?

    What is wrong here?

    BTW, Simon's letter is the second one down.

    Thursday, November 02, 2006

    Profs to be photographed in action!

    I have to post this story from Rate my professors is going to add photos to their reviews of professors!

    It is going to encourage students to take photos of their professors with their camera phones and post them on-line. Now we'll get to see who really deserves those chili peppers!

    Apparently, it has already happened to someone here. Judith Thorpe, identified as a recent retireee, had some part of her lecture posted on youtube. Insidehighered mentions her story in a link.

    Wednesday, November 01, 2006

    Grade Inflation

    Yesterday afternoon, some number of faculty members met to discuss grade inflation. It is yet another interesting campus discussion in which I couldn't participate. That teaching really gets in the way of my other interests!!

    In any case, the Northwestern decided to cover the meeting. The story is quite bland, so I hope that the discussion was more substantive than reported.

    We need to think about how to fix this problem. How can we make a decision to make A's and B's mean something. For me, it is a given that they should.

    First, we need to have an administration that is clearly in favor of academic standards, and willing to take the heat in having students who can't do college work fail out. This is perhaps the most important, unfortunately.

    I think the second step would be to have more publicity for grades. If we all knew each others average gradepoints, it would help balance things. Faculty would then have to be encouraged and cajoled to keep their gradepoints down.

    College has been transformed into a mass phenomenon in the second half of the 20th century. We need to acknowledge that the character has been transformed, but insist that quality is crucial to make the degree worth something. If many more people have a degree that is worth less, has society really gained?

    Monday, October 30, 2006

    Funding cuts for Higher education is reporting a new study which shows patterns of funding for higher education over the last twenty years. It shows that most states refunded their universities after economic downturns of 1980-2 and 1991-3. This has not yet happened for the recession of 2001-3. Wisconsin bucked the trend in the early 90s, when they increased spending on higher ed. Wisconsin didn't have quite as egregious cuts in 2001 as other states, but there is very little hope of having a reinvestment.

    As the report points out, spending on higher ed from 1979-2004 has not kept up with economic growth in any state.

    For the importance of higher education, you can read the document from the fed, posted on the listserv by Michael Watkins. It is oddly shallow text, only stressing the immediate benefits of higher ed for regional businesses. There is very little thought about long-term implications of higher education and none about creating an educated populace.

    We are watching the slow suffocation of higher education in Wisconsin and the United States. Where will we be in a decade or two?

    Friday, October 27, 2006

    Barrett Comes and Goes

    Last night was the big Barrett event. I wasn't there, because I didn't get tickets in time. Actually, I am not sure I would have gone anyway, but I did want to see the spectacle.

    The coverage in the media so far has been interesting.

    The Northwestern ran three stories about it today.

    First, the talk
    Second, the anti-Barrett rally
    Third, an editorial

    The coverage didn't make any reference to the academic freedom part of his talk, so I wonder what he had to say about that. He did get on the TV news with a few of his sensational claims including that the U.S. was now a totalitarian state. If that were true, wouldn't he be in jail??

    I was struck by the report that the College Republicans had to import students from Marquette to man the picket line. I also wondered why the head of the college republicans showed up unshaven and wearing a dirty t-shirt. He must be a new kind of conservative!

    I also caught the segments on the local news last night. All three local networks had a piece on the visit last night at 10PM. I imagine Fox11 did too, but I didn't wait until the end of the ball game to see.

    The news coverage was very similar. They each showed Barrett, interviewed Andy Sabai and Nate Nelson. The most sensationalist channel, NBC 26 annoyed me by continually referring incorrectly to "Professor" Barrett. He is only a lecturer, as professor connotes a specific kind of job. It links him more closely to us than is true.

    In some ways, I am glad the republicans set up a protest. It did a good job offsetting the media focus on Barrett. The protesters were more interesting to photograph than Barrett. It provided a good counter image to Barrett's passionate, irrational attack on the government.

    Everyone had their say. Perhaps we can start focusing on the good work that occurs on our campus, like the big grant received by the college of business this week.

    As a final note, Tony is still referring to me as a McCarthyite in his post this morning.

    Thursday, October 26, 2006

    News coverage of death threats for campus republican

    I want to repost a very interesting anonymous comment that was posted in response to the events surrounding the death threat to the head of the campus republicans, Nate Nelson. I added the news story to my comments about the College Republican story

    It almost completely refutes the details provided in the news story, which makes it seem like the journalist did a half-assed job of reporting.

    Does anyone else want to chime in? I don't know whether I can trust the details laid out here, but the comment is well written and quite persuasive.

    Just to clarify a few points in that story:

    1) The "gay pride rally" was actually a "Civil Rights Rally" organized by the Winnebago Peace and Justice Center (WPJC) which invited representatives from WisPIRG, People of Faith for Fairness, & Students for a Fair Wisconsin to speak.

    2) Nate Nelson didn't "call" University Police to the scene - they were already there. The rally was legal, the use of a megaphone (apparently) was not. Nate may have asked UP to end the rally due to the use of a megaphone, but UP was already on site. I was there, I know.

    3) This happened over a month ago, September 26 to be exact. The death threat was reported to have happened the next day, September 27. The "news" of this death threat just came out four weeks later in a press release issued by the "Leadership Institute", the agency that funds "Life and Liberty News", the conservative student newspaper that Nate Nelson writes for (latest edition issued today).

    4) The implication in both the press release and the news reports is that someone "opposed to the Amendment" made a death threat on Nate Nelson because of his actions and/or views. But Nate Nelson has been a solid 'opponent' of the Amendment himself - at least until last week. If there was a threat sent to Nate Nelson, it would not have come from anyone from the gay and lesbian groups on campus who knew very well where he stood on this issue. He has been considered a 'distant' or 'silent ally' by the GLBT community until very recently.

    5) Nate Nelson was walking around campus today carrying a megaphone and passing out "Dump Doyle" stickers before the Doyle event on campus. I guess the threats to his life are really getting to him.

    And now you know ... the rest of the story.

    Tuesday, October 24, 2006

    College Republicans planning on sabotaging Barrett?

    I heard a rumor today from a student that the College Republicans took a number of tickets to the Barrett presentation. Their plan, supposedly, is not to use them, so that there will be empty seats in the auditorium.

    If this is true, it strikes me as quite a reprehensible act. I hope someone else has heard about this and is going to make sure that people who want to go are not thwarted by this crap.

    As much as I think that Barrett is a problematic speaker, trying to keep people out is worse!

    Monday, October 23, 2006

    Extra Credit for Barrett?

    Apparently, some teachers on campus are offering extra credit for going to hear Barrett speak. The presentation is scheduled in a space that only holds 160 people, so student have not been able to get in.

    Barrett has "sold out" reeve auditorium, so some students have been left out. Earns and Roter just sent out a memo, asking whoever might be giving extra credit to make sure that students can get credit for going to other activities that bracket the Barrett show.

    Lets hope that whoever is encouraging their students to go will do so with a critical eye. The proponents of Barrett's visit have yet to acknowledge that there might be anything wrong with his ideas, and I have to imagine that those are the people who are giving credit for this.

    Here is the memo:

    October 23, 2006

    To: Faculty and Staff

    From: Lane Earns, Provost and Vice Chancellor
    Petra Roter, Vice Chancellor, Student Affairs

    Re: Student Extra Credit for Attendance at Barrett Presentation

    It has come to our attention that some faculty members have required student attendance at Kevin Barrett's presentation on Wednesday, August 26th. Since all of the available tickets for the Reeve Theatre presentation have been distributed, as of today, it will be impossible for any student not already in possession of a ticket to attend.

    The Campus Greens, who invited Mr. Barrett to campus, chose the Reeve Theatre venue and all subsequent plans have been made accordingly. It is impossible at this late date to change the location of the presentation.

    May I suggest that you offer your students the opportunity to attend not only the Barrett presentation, but one or more of the many other fine events and presentations that the campus will host over the remainder of the semester.

    We appreciate your efforts to encourage student attendance at campus presentations, but we hope that you will be flexible in terms of extra-credit assignments, given the fact that seating will be limited at the Barrett event.

    Thank you for your cooperation regarding this matter.

    Academic Freedom at Columbia

    The NY Times ran an article (reg. required) about the troubles balancing academic freedom with angry constituencies in Sunday's paper.

    The issues,of which Columbia has had 4 in the last few months, are similar to our own. Our own discussion of religion on campus fits. Barrett, of course, is the most divisive issue at the moment. It seems to me that Palmeri and crew might claim that my anti-Barrett comments are similar in spirit to those who caused a brawl during a speaking engagement there.

    The article dwells on the political aspects of the controversies at Columbia, noting its attempt to raise its profile in admission.

    It also discusses the president's complaints that nuance is being ignored for belligerency.

    Friday, October 20, 2006

    Any meeting reports?

    There were several interesting meetings on campus this week, all of which I missed.

    The two that I should have gone to, in particular, were the academic freedom panel on Tuesday and the all-COLs meeting on Thursday.

    Are there any readers out there who might post a report?

    As I write this post, I stikes me that we should do this as a regular feature of campus life. Someone at these meetings should volunteer to take notes and post a small summary and commentary on the web. Anyone want to sign up for that duty?

    **Tony Palmeri has done part of this by posting Miles McGuire's comments on his website.

    **Update # 2, The A-T also has a brief story about the meeting. Tom Lammers pointed this out in his comments. I really should consistantly look at the paper.

    How did other panelists and audience members respond? Were there many people there?

    Wednesday, October 18, 2006

    The Crisis of the Modern University

    The New Yorker is running a long book review on this history of universities. It is a thought provoking piece about the divided nature of our occupation. With one foot in the medieval world and one in the modern, universities have always struggled with defining themselves.

    The ending suggests that we face a new junction, when we are being faced with a new choice of redefining ourselves as purely profit driven institutions in order to survive. The medieval roots are falling away.

    It does make me want to read the book . . .

    Monday, October 16, 2006

    Adjuncts lower graduation rates

    Did you see this story over at A study shows that graduation rates at community colleges decline as percentage of adjunct faculty increases.

    The author argues that this is because adjuncts are not paid for time outside the class room.

    It makes you wonder if our graduation rates will get worse as we increase our own reliance on adjuncts and part-timers. It would hardly serve our goals if this were the case!

    Sunday, October 15, 2006

    Professors accused of dishonesty on sick-leave

    The state legislative audit bureau released its report on UW sick leave policy on Friday. You can read the AP report here.

    It has already become another 'reason' for the UW-haters to attack us. We can, of course, add Mark Green to that number, as he seems to think running against the universities will bring him additional votes.

    In any case, I think the audit bureau report demonstrates another fundamental misunderstanding of the world of academia. Most of us see flexibility as one of the most important parts of our job. We are not clock-punchers. However, you are more than likely to find us sitting at home on the couch grading or reading that latest journal in our field. Our work does not stop at the office door--instead it is our passion and our life.

    Sick-leave is something that is tangential to our work. For example, I have not cancelled a class since I have been here because I was sick. I have, however, spent the rest of one of those days miserable in bed (usually reading material related to my position). Technically, I should have taken a sick-leave day, according to the standards proclaimed by the audit bureau. But then that should also mean that I shouldn't finish that grading or make another revision to that journal submission in the evening or on the weekend. We don't worry about sick-leave because we never really leave our work behind.

    The other aspect to this is that unused sick-leave works out as a retirement suppliment to counteract our below-average pay. UW pay has slipped and is getting worse in relation to other academic positions across the country. Providing a boost at retirement is a way to make up for some of the salary loss during our years of service.

    In the end, however, since we have no strong advocates in Wisconsin, we will continued to be pummelled by politicians looking only for political points. Administration in Madison will sit meekly by and apologize. Riley and crew will probably be proposing some sort of new, wasteful and onerous reporting requirements. I wish they would spend their energy making people understand why the work we and the UW system do is crucial to the future of our state and our citizens.

    Thursday, October 12, 2006

    Wednesday, October 11, 2006

    Barrett working hard for his 15 minutes of fame

    Mostly so that he can keep his name in the press, news has come out that Barrett is assigning a book of essays in his class, which includes one written by himself that compares Bush and Hitler, making an analogy between the Reichstag fire of 1933 and 9/11.

    I looked it up and the Reichstag burned, it was used as an excuse to suppress the communists, but the building wasn't actually destroyed. Bad analogy, but then Barrett isn't an expert in anything that we have ever heard him talk about. . .

    Regardless, you can read what Madison Law Prof Ann Althouse and her readers have to say about.

    The Northwestern did publish a letter from him last week, but I didn't think it was worthy of mention. Tony blogged about it as well.

    The whole thing is just a waste of energy--Barrett is such a distraction to the important activities at our institution--but he is good at demanding our attention.

    Tuesday, October 10, 2006

    Grade Inflation Discussion sizzles list

    SoTL is organizing a forum on Grade Inflation for Halloween. Here is the announcement:

    Grades: Tricks or Treats?
    Tuesday, October 31, 12 to 2 p.m., Reeve Union 221

    A frank discussion on the issue of grade inflation at UW Oshkosh from both faculty and student perspectives. What are the causes? Is it really a problem? Professor Bryan Lilly will moderate the discussion. Panel members include Bill Wresch, Undergraduate Program Director of COBA; John Koker, COLS Interim Dean; and Peter Meyerson, Associate Professor, COEHS. Please bring your own lunch, though “treats” will be provided.

    This posting has fired up the discussion list as nothing else has in quite awhile. It began with some thinking about correlation between SOS evaluations and grades in the class. Brian Lilly argues that he has found a clear correlation. Others have written in asking if this is truly a problem. Perhaps the higher average represents better students or students fulfilling requirements better than they used to (Ha!).

    It has been a very intriguing discussion and I look forward to the Halloween discussion and more dialogue on our list serve. I suppose I will make a comment about it in more detail myself, when I feel like I have a bit more time.

    Back to grading now. . . .

    Saturday, October 07, 2006

    Wells still looking to flee

    As announced yesterday, the Chancellor's desire to leave UWO has not waned. He has been nominated as a finalist for a job at the College of Charleston. Does he really expect us to believe that he is not actively pursuing other opportunities?

    Just as it did last spring, it still makes sense. Why would he want to put up with all the legislative BS that dominates Wisconsin?

    The Northwestern ran a front page story about it this morning
    Here is the text of his announcement to the university community:

    Dear Elected Officials and Colleagues,

    The College of Charleston has just announced that I have agreed to be a finalist for the position of President. I was nominated for the position, and after careful consideration I agreed to be a candidate. Christie and I greatly appreciate and enjoy the support and success of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh community. We fully realize that if it were not for the support of the outstanding people that comprise UW Oshkosh, the UW System, and the state of Wisconsin, Christie and I would not be in the position to consider this excellent opportunity. For this, we are thankful. The College of Charleston Board of Trustees expects to conclude the search on or before November 1st. I regret any distraction this situation may cause for our academic community, and I will continue, with your help, to stay fully focused on moving forward the priorities of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.

    Richard H. Wells

    Friday, October 06, 2006

    Do we take care of our LTEs?

    Inside Higher Education reports that Madison is moving a number of long-term limited-term employees from part-time status to full time status. They are also making sure that they are meeting the Madison city's living wage mininum ($10.23/hr).

    This is a great thing for Madison to be doing. We should be doing it too. I wonder what our policy is?

    Wednesday, October 04, 2006

    Tony accuses me of being a McCarthyite today

    I am generally very sympathetic to the arguments and positions that Tony puts forth on his blog, but I have trouble taking seriously his attack on me as a McCarthyite.

    I didn't watch the little video he posted, so I am not sure what it says in there.

    I just want to come back to the question I posed in yesterday's post. Are we supposed to let all and sundry viewpoints be presented on campus in the name of academic freedom, no matter how repulsive and unfounded they are?

    I have never once said that Barrett should be banned from campus or not allowed to speak. I also don't think that 9/11 conspiricists are the equivalent of holocaust deniers.

    What I have argued consistently is that we as an institution need to work on our reputation as a solid, intellectual community. Barrett does nothing to enhance that. When the Greens sponsor their candidates for elections, I am very glad to see it. When the Earth Charter brings serious people to campus to discuss important environmental issues, I applaud it. When we have Barrett coming to campus, we have to waste our time dealing with the controvery.

    As a final note, I have never made any spurious allegations of illicit infiltration by Communists or demanded that anyone be arrested.

    For a few links, here is the chancellor in the Northwestern today.

    Here is a philosopher discussing why people believe in conspiracy theories.

    Monday, October 02, 2006

    Tony continues to defend Barrett

    Tony added two more posts about Kevin Barrett today and yesterday. It turns out that part of the reason that Tony is so defensive about the invite to Kevin Barrett is that he was involved in inviting him here to speak.

    In any case, as you read all of Tony's defenses of Barrett's views, he continues to refer to the cowardice of the faculty for not embracing, or accepting Barrett's conspiratorial premises.

    Barrett is not an expert in any of the topic about which he speaks (except that he is a scholar of Islam who seems to agree with many Islamists), but is convinced that the U.S. Government is evil.

    Why is it cowardice to say that this is not what our university should stand for? How is it problematic to say that it only causes us political harm? The reality of the situation is that we teach at a public university, funded by state taxpayers with legislators looking over our shoulders. To give Barrett an unchallenged platform only makes us look foolish.

    As Tony is our free-speech expert, I want him to respond to the question I have asked several times--where do you draw the line? Would he be as excited about a speaker who repeatedly pushed the falsehood that Saddam was responsible for 9/11? Would we see this adament defense of a holocaust deniers right to speak and not be challenged on campus? How about those who speak of racial differences in intellegence? Do we have to accept all views as equal in our intellectual community?

    Should the Liberal Arts include the Trades?

    I found this interesting article this morning, where the author suggests that students should spend their summers in the trades, working with their hands to gain a full appreciation of the human mind.

    I find it an oddly compelling argument--building things is not rocket science, but gives you great perspective on how things are put together and challenges your mind in ways complementary to intellectual endeavors.


    Friday, September 29, 2006

    Petra Strikes Again

    In shades of last spring's uproar over the Freshman Experience course, student government expressed dismay that Student Life didn't bother to consult them about changing the structure of dorm living here. The A-T reported this in Thursday's paper.

    There is even a quote from some administrator who says that the students are right in their complaint. He just promises that there will be more consultation in the future.

    Student government doesn't have the power of the faculty, so I imagine their complaints will go nowhere. Petra and her staff don't seem to realize that our campus is supposed to be based on shared governance. They are not haughty aristocrats who get to act "in our interests" without bothering to inform us.

    The paper editorializes about it here

    This is now the third time that Petra and staff have ignored the rules and tried to implement changes without consulting anyone. As I was writing this, I remembered the arbtrary change of movie-viewing policies on campus. I wonder who they will ignore next?

    Thursday, September 28, 2006

    Green attacks UW system

    I haven't seen the ad myself, but Gubernatorial candidate Mark Green is running an ad attacking the admissions policies of the UWs.

    The link is to a TV station site that points out the misrepresentation in the ad, including the use of actors to portray upset parents.

    One of his complaints is high tuition. So should we be expecting him to promise a big reinvestment in the system if he gets elected? Is he going to put some monetary pledges where his mouth is?

    Tuesday, September 26, 2006

    Wasteful Wireless on Campus

    I just thought I would post a petty post today. I noticed this grand article on the front of the A-T today. We have installed wireless in academic buildings.

    In a time of scarce resources, do we really need to spend money on this? I don't see how this is going to enhance learning on our campus. It allows the annoying click of keys and students to randomly surf the web when they should be taking notes. Great!

    I suppose I'll now have to circulate to the back of the room to see if students are doing something productive on their laptops during my classes.

    If someone can find me a decent pedagogical reason for having this, I'll relent, but I sure can't think of one. . .

    Sunday, September 24, 2006

    Students complain about being checked for plagiarism

    High school students in Virgina got written up in the Washington Post for their complaint against They claim that the for-profit site steals their intellectual property when they are required to submit versions of their paper to the site without compensation.

    The article goes on to discuss a few of the intellectual property right issues, but it mostly raises the question about the validity of the complaint.

    Do you think students really worry about the "intellectual property" of a paper written for English class, or are worried about getting caught plagiarism?

    We don't subscribe to a service like this, but I catch a plariarist or two a semester, so this would be incredibly useful to me!

    Saturday, September 23, 2006

    Economist attacks higher ed

    For a change of pace, here is an attack on the elitism of higher education from the editorialist "Lexington" in the economist. The attacks the increaing inequality of admissions procedures.

    It is is a two pronged attack: One against the policy of legacy admissions, including for children of faculty. The second is against diversity policies.

    He proposes instead a class-based system in which poor children gain preference.

    Most of this doesn't affect us. I don't know that we get special treatment for our children (unfortunately and unusually in the world of academia). We are an incredibly monocultural campus and we are increasingly pricing poorer families out of the system. However, I am not sure that we have a restricted enough admissions policy to turn anyone away!

    Tuesday, September 19, 2006

    Does UWO fail in teacher training?

    I read this article in the Northwestern yesterday (but I can't find the link, so here is a different story from inside higher ed), about a new study that claims that institutions such as our are doing a bad job training new teachers. He argues that statistics demonstrate that Masters granting institutions like UWO do a much worse job training teachers than PhD-granting schools.

    I don't know what the data say about UWO, but if we look at the criticisms that the author levels, we have many of them. Low admissions standards, low graduation standards, high student-faculty ration and low spending per student are a few that we meet.

    Does this critique hold water for us? Does it hold for Wisconsin in general? I am not in the school of ed, so I don't know what they might say about this study.

    Monday, September 18, 2006

    Berube on liberals in academia

    The NY Times Magazine ran an editorial piece (reg. required) by Michael Berube about liberals in higher education. Berube has been one of the most outspoken critics of Horowitz and his ilk. This piece, I imagine, fits with the arguments he made in his recently published book.

    It goes without saying that I agree with the arguments that Berube is making here and the article is accompanied with a nice chart showing that not much has changed in terms of ideological makeup over the last couple of decades. Professors who identify themselves as moderates have declined, while both left and right have slighly increased.

    Friday, September 15, 2006

    Low Graduation Rates Raising Questions

    The NY Times is running a story today (reg. required) about dropping graduation rates at universities across the country. The focus of the story is on African-Americans, but is clearly applicable to all groups.

    Our own 6-year graduation rate is around 43%, if I remember correctly.

    These stories always present complicated emotions, because they ignore the question of quality, as if graduation is more important than actually learning something. As we have often discussed on this campus, raising enrollment and graduation rates can most easily be fixed by lowering standards.

    That is a path that we shouldn't go down, but it always lurks under the surface in a topic like this.

    Wednesday, September 13, 2006

    Oil Change and a Hair Cut

    I had been meaning to post a comment on Dean Koker's introductory remarks last Tuesday, but I have been distracted by all of the Barrett arguments.

    John Koker gave his address to COLS just over a week ago and I think that it bodes well for the next year. He used the fact that on the day that he was appointed interim Dean, he got both an oil change and a haircut. These two events served as the metaphors for his vision of leadership.

    His general theme was that things are going fairly well in COLS, and he doesn't envision major changes. There needs to be routine maintenance and only cosmetic changes.

    Koker's relaxed demeanor and friendly attitude should serve the college well over the next year. It is good to see that he had no grand plans for change as well.

    We are getting to hire 20 more faculty members this year, so we might actually break even in terms of total numbers. He is promising another 20 next year. This is very good news.

    What do readers think should happen in COLS this year? What should we be looking for in a new Dean?

    Monday, September 11, 2006

    BYU puts 9/11 doubter on paid leave

    A BYU researcher in a continuing position, but without tenure, was suspended with pay for claiming 9/11 was caused by explosives.

    BYU apparently is notorious for its repression of academic freedoms.

    See the story at

    Andy Sabai in the Northwestern about Barrett Visit

    In case you didn't see it, Andy Sabai had an editorial published in the Northwestern this weekend. He argues that inviting Kevin Barrett to campus is really about the calls for his removal from various political figures.

    He suggests that this is all part of the Green Party's desire for peaceful, progressive change in Amerian politics. As one who has been generally disillusioned by major party politics in this country, I applaud that. It is a shame that they decided that the best way to get their message across is to invite Barrett here.

    I would also point you to Prof David Siemers comments to my post entitled, "Andy Sabai responds over at Tony's blog." from Sept. 5. He explains better than I have why the arguments in the letter are problematic.

    Thursday, September 07, 2006

    Wisconsin fails in affordability

    A national education group released a report today, rating state college systems. Wisconsin did quite well for education, but received an F for affordability.

    Here is a link to the AP story describing the Wisconsin results.

    It is a depressing story for students, but it gets even better when you hear UW-hater Rob Kreibich's response, as noted by Wisconsin Radio Network, "The Eau Claire Republican says the report shows the need for the UW system to cap tuition."

    No talk about refunding the system after the big cuts or help from the legislature, just more cuts as a way of solving the problem. . . .

    Wednesday, September 06, 2006

    Barrett and Intelligent Design

    After contemplating Andy Sabai's letter in defense of Barrett, it struck me that argument by believers in 9/11 conspiracies are almost exactly the same as that which comes from supporters of Intelligent Design.

    Those who accept Barrett's argument about 9/11 are driven by faith that the Bush administration is an evil regime, aspiring to dominate the world through violence and deception. Thus, you can accept the idea that the government would do something like 9/11. What use is there for real evidence?

    IDers do the same thing. If you start with an unshakeable belief that evolution is a secular demon, it doesn't matter that there is 150 years of good scientific evidence supporting the theory.

    It was Sabai's comment on Galileo that made this connection for me. I read an article a few months ago about how a few IDers saw Galileo as a hero for challenging the established doctrine. Their attack on evolution seemed to them to be like Galileo's challenge to the church. Sabai, of course, makes exactly the same argument.

    Thus, we have the left and the right agreeing in their distrust of reality, for completely different reasons. . . As someone once argued, the political spectrum looks more like a circle than a line!

    Perhaps the link between 9/11 conspiracists and holocaust deniers, suggested by a few comenters, is more real than we would like to think. . .

    Tuesday, September 05, 2006

    Andy Sabai responds over at Tony's blog

    Andy Sabai, chairman of the campus greens, has a response letter posted over at talktotony.

    It is a nice thoughtful letter, though I take issue with comparing Barrett to the great scientists who challenged the traditions of the church. They had evidence provided through detailed observation. If Barrett were actually a structural engineer who could demonstrate any of his claims, I might be more inclined to take him seriously. He is a scholar of Islam--how that gives him authority to make claims about the sinister nature of 9/11 is difficult for me to fathom.

    In any case, read Andy's response. . .

    Monday, September 04, 2006

    Tony Palmeri weighs in on Barrett.

    Tony has posted a comment on the Barrett visit to campus, arguing that since Barrett has not expressed his conspiratorial views in the classroom, he is protected by academic freedom. He claims that Wells dodged this issue, but I don't see exactly what he means here. Perhaps we'll find out in his part II.

    Tony wants to claim that politics should not be taken into account, but unfortunately, that is all Barrett's visit is about. There are few, if any facts or research here. Barrett continuously defames us with his crackpot theories and then claims protection of the academy.

    In any case, as one of my irate posters pointed out, he is an adjunct, teaching one lousy course. What claim does he have to the protections of academic freedom? Doesn't that come with some demonstration of scholarship and responsibility, accepted by peers in granting tenure??

    I feel like such a conservative in this comment, but giving Barrett a public forum mocks what higher education is about. Well's response of bringing in someone to talk about how crazy conspiratorial beliefs develop seems like a great idea!

    Saturday, September 02, 2006

    Well's shrewdly responds to Barrett visit

    After the story of Barrett's visit ran on the front page of the Northwestern today, Wells went into damage-control mode and is going to try to turn his visit into a campus-wide learning experience. The most interesting part is that we are inviting a speaker who will talk about why people believe strange things.

    I think that this is a great response--the chancellor is handling the situation as well as he can! Here is Well's press release:

    Campus Greens, a recognized UW Oshkosh student organization, has invited Kevin Barrett to speak at a program it has scheduled for Oct. 26 at the theatre at Reeve Memorial Union, a student fee-funded building. No state or taxpayer dollars will be used for the program. Members of the campus community will decide on their own whether or not to attend.

    We will take all necessary steps to ensure a safe, civil and tolerant setting for the student-sponsored event, which also will include the showing of the controversial film, “Loose Change 2.” We will work with members of Campus Greens to make sure they follow the necessary protocols. Failure to adhere to these protocols would require me to postpone the event, and it would not be rescheduled until I am convinced we have ensured a civil environment.

    Many believe that the highly controversial views of Mr. Barrett, who has said the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were orchestrated by U.S. government officials to spark war in the Middle East, should not be protected by freedom of speech.

    I do not in any way endorse the 9/11 ideas advocated by Mr. Barrett. In my opinion, his ideas are nonsensical. His visit, however, provides our students the opportunity to assess critically his views. Any analysis of the tragedy must conform to the most rigorous standards for scholarly analysis.

    Mr. Barrett’s visit offers us a chance to reaffirm our belief that with freedom comes responsibility. Members of a university community do not have absolute freedom of speech in their official capacities. They are free to pursue academic, artistic and research agendas essential to the university mission, but they must also contribute to an open and collegial environment that promotes reasoned inquiry, intellectual honesty, scholarly competence and the pursuit of new knowledge.

    Wisconsin has a long-standing tradition of academic freedom. It was eloquently summarized by Helen White of UW Madison in 1957:

    “There is today a good deal of dispute over the advantages of various types of bomb shelters for our bodies. But there is no dispute over one fact, and that is that there are no bomb shelters for our minds. Indeed, I know of no readier way to disarm ourselves than to try to hide from disturbing knowledge, and, conversely, I know of no surer way to steady our nerves and find the courage we need than to take arms against a sea of rumors and alarms and by understanding end them.”

    In addition, in order to provide a responsible campus environment and a rational, critical analysis of the ideas espoused by Mr. Barrett and the film “Loose Change 2,” we have planned the following events:

    · During October, panels of UW Oshkosh faculty, staff and students will discuss such questions as “Why Do People Believe Weird Things?”, “What Social and Psychological Conditions Predispose People to Develop and Accept Conspiracy ‘Theories’?” and “What is the Responsible Exercise of Academic Freedom?”

    · On Nov. 7 or 8, we have tentatively scheduled a public talk and classroom lectures by nationally renowned author Michael Shermer, who wrote Why People Believe Weird Things. His topics will include “How thinking goes wrong: 25 fallacies that lead us to believe weird things” and “Why smart people believe weird things.”

    These events will supplement the critical thinking that takes place every day in hundreds of UW Oshkosh classes. I know that our students are entirely capable of judging the validity of Mr. Barrett’s views.

    Academic freedom is inextricably linked to the equally important need to exercise responsibly that “freedom.” Anything less threatens and diminishes academic freedom. I hope members of the university community will take advantage of our faculty panel presentations and the talk by Mr. Shermer to help engage in the civil exchange of ideas guided by the best use of our critical thinking skills.

    Thursday, August 31, 2006

    Susan McFadden in the Dean's Office

    Susan McFadden was part of the interim appointment of John Koker as Dean of L and S, and took a position as "faculty liaison to the interim dean" (I wonder how big of a pay raise she gets for doing it). She sent out a memo this week describing some of her goals for the year.

    Unfortunately, she has quickly taken up the role of chaperoning administrative priorities through COLS.

    Project # 1: A healthcare emphasis that will stretch across several departments. It is unclear exactly what this means, except that students who are interested in health care issues will take more courses and get some sort of additional listing on their transcript. It isn't nursing, which we already have, it isn't pre-med, so is it meant to train students to be nursing home employees? Is it a supposed outlet for all the students who can't get into the nursing program? She claims it is secretly an attempt to make students work harder, but I am not sure how that is going to work . . .

    Project # 2: Convince the faculty that the administration's already-in-place plan for a Freshman experience course is a good idea. We saw what happened when Petra Roter tried to defend the program last Spring. Someone hopes that McFadden will do a better job convincing us of the usefulness of this class.

    Project # 3: Shakespeare on the Fox. Now here is a better initiative. Bring an important literary tradition to campus and bring the community into the intellectual life of the university. She wants people to volunteer to give talks on their expertise that relate to the project. Step up and do your part!

    She leaves us with the strange metaphor of a "gift" of an interim year. Perhaps I haven't been around long enough to know that COLS works better without a long-term dean. Perhaps this is a dig at Michael. If it is such a gift not to have a dean, lets turn the position into one held internally on short-term contracts.

    I don't know what to make of her approach to this position. I have a lot of respect for McFadden, and I hope that she will not become the latest administrator who thinks she knows better than the faculty as a whole.

    Wednesday, August 30, 2006

    Barrett coming to Campus

    The campus greens have invited Barrett to come to campus in October. I am posting the information left in a comment below.

    As much as I believe in academic freedom, dragging out Barrett all over the place is not the way to demonstrate the seriousness of our scholarship and bolster our reputation as a solid academic environment.

    The major speakers that get invited to campus are almost invariable of this fluff. Perhaps if we had a series of well-respected academics, instead of provocateurs, we might draw the academically-minded, instead of the party-minded new students. . .

    The UW Oshkosh Campus Greens are sponsoring the following event in the University Theater on Thursday, October 26 from 6pm - 9pm. The plan is to show Loose Change 2 at 6:00pm. The movie is 1 hour 29 minutes and discusses several ideas regarding the events that took place on 9/11.

    Kevin Barrett will then offer a presentation at 7:45pm about Academic Freedom and outrageous actions of many state politicians.

    Tuesday, August 29, 2006

    Board doesn't take Barrett Bait

    The Winnebago county board voted down a proposal to cut funding for UW extension the equivalent of Barrett's pay down at Madison. It is nice to see that they did this, but it is an amazing tactic of the right to keep this topic alive.

    I don't think that legislators down in Madison will be this kind when the system budget comes up, however. We have become the easiest target in the entire state!

    Here is the story from the Northwestern.

    I'll add this link to Inside Higher Ed, to read about the tempest-in-a-teapot generated in New Hampshire by another prof. who questioned the offical line on 9/11

    Monday, August 28, 2006

    Wells responds to quality discussions

    Chancellor Wells sent this long memo to the university community. He has apparently cut and pasted all of the promotional material he has been using over the last year into the message.

    After looking over the letter, it doesn't seem that he addresses any of the comments that have been flowing over this or the other discussion directly. And unfortunately, the letter starts with the fact that we are growing and he wants us to keep growing (while not increasing full-time faculty).

    I don't accept the argument that growth is the factor that determines improvement, but that is the line the chancellor continues to push. Where are the quality initiatives? Where is the desire to get faculty/student ratios down to the others in the system, let alone higher status institutions? Where is the understanding that a quality university is based on significant interactions between students and faculty, not having a swanky new facility for the athletes?

    Will Wells acknowledge that there are obvious problems that need to be addressed or will he continue to be a snake-oil salesman?

    August 28, 2006

    TO: University Community

    FROM: Richard H. Wells, Chancellor

    Lane R. Earns, Provost and Vice Chancellor

    RE: The Constant Pursuit of Educational Quality and Distinctiveness at UW Oshkosh

    Recently a dialogue has emerged on campus about the quality, distinctiveness and reputation of UW Oshkosh. This is a discussion that the Provost and I welcome. We believe that while we must remain open to “brutal facts” and squarely face the related challenges, we must also recognize and be proud of our progress and the outstanding accomplishments of our faculty, staff and students. In this memo, we want to bring some of these accomplishments to your attention and explain what we are doing to address the issue of the University’s reputation.

    As you know, we are entering the final phase of accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission. In preparation for our HLC report, we will also be re-examining our Key Operational Plans and participating in UW System Equity Scorecard Project. The entire process will allow a detailed inspection of quality on our campus.

    At UW Oshkosh, we are always working on improving the quality of education that we provide and building upon our reputation. We have clear evidence that we are an outstanding institution.

    For those of you who would like an extensive examination of our progress, we suggest that you take the time to review the University’s Strategic Plan updates, critiques and annual reports. (see For those interested in a more abbreviated version, we have noted below some accomplishments between 2000 and 2005 for your perusal:

    We have larger enrollments and FTE, and we have increased the number of students of color, degrees conferred and the retention rates for our first-year students:

    * Headcount enrollment has increased by 6.2% (726) to more than 12,000 students (11,000 on campus);
    * FTE enrollment has increased by 9.4% (873);
    * Enrollment of students of color has increased by 240, up 58%, the largest percentage increase among the UW System’s eleven comprehensive universities;
    * Enrollment of older students has increased by 5.5%, the largest percentage increase among the UW System’s eleven comprehensive universities;
    * Credit-to-degree has decreased by 3%;
    * Degrees conferred have increased from 1,712 to 1,856, up 8.4%; and
    * Retention rates for first-year students have improved from 70.8% to 76.8%.

    We have secured more grants and more private dollars than ever before:

    * Grant dollars have increased from $3.7 to $11.7 million, up 216%;
    * Foundation gifts and pledges have increased from $1.7 to $4.9 million annually;
    * Funding was identified for 80 no-cost Academic Excellence Scholarships; and
    * UWO Foundation total net assets have increased by 82% ($7.2 - $13.1 million) from 2002 – 2006, while total assets nearly tripled going from $7.4 to $19.2 million.

    We have raised the level of academic preparedness of our first-year students:

    * 3.4% more are from the top 10% of their high school class;
    * 11.1% more are from the top 25% of their high school class; and
    * Academic Excellence and National Merit scholars increased from 44 to 92, up 109%.

    We have expanded support programs for student, faculty and staff development:

    * New Student Compact provides $1,000,000 annually through differential tuition to enhance and integrate student academic support services;
    * Faculty Compact launched a new teaching and learning program; and
    * New Leadership development programs for faculty, academic staff and classified staff have been implemented.

    We have added new academic majors and significantly increased baccalaureate degree completion programs:

    * New undergraduate majors in Theatre Arts, Athletic Training and Environmental Studies;
    * New accelerated Math and Science Teacher Education Program in collaboration with five UW Colleges;
    * New Bachelor of Fire, Emergency and Response Management Degree;
    * New collaborative Master’s Degree in Social Work with UW Green Bay;
    * Eleven new Graduate Certificate Programs;
    * Accelerated Bachelor’s Degree Program for non-nursing graduates, as well as a MBA foundations online program; and
    * The state’s only “2 plus 2” Aeronautics Bachelor’s Degree Program.

    We have enhanced our facilities by completing $75 million worth of capital building projects with another $100 million of projects on the near horizon:

    * Acquired funding and completed $1.8 million of classroom and lab upgrades (including funding for a major renovation of the Aquatic Research Laboratory);
    * Purchased and renovated a 30,000 sq. ft. building for Academic Support Services and a new Women’s Center;
    * Convinced the State to earmark funds for the Fall 2005 purchase of a 36 acre addition to our riverfront campus;
    * Have undertaken a campus beautification project including landscaping, lighting and signage;
    * Are constructing a new $21 million Student Health and Wellness Center (to be opened in 2007);
    * Authorized the purchase and renovation of the Newman Center and Credit Union buildings by the UWO Foundation;
    * Unveiled a new parking plan, with first 400 car parking ramp to be opened in the Fall of 2007;
    * Completed $3.5 million of the planned $5.7 million transformation of the Oshkosh Sports Complex, as well as a $1.0 million improvement of Kolf Sports Center;
    * Completed a $13 million renovation of Taylor Hall; and
    * Received authorization from the State to place a new $48 million Academic Building on the high priority new construction list to be planned in 2005-2007 and constructed in 2007-2009. The State has already released $1.2 million for design costs.

    We have won national recognition for our commitment to “green” principles by using EPA LEED building design standards, by decreasing negative environmental impacts through the conservation of water and energy, by reducing pollution, and by recycling:

    * Reduced water consumption by 24,484,000 gallons/year, a savings of $130,986;
    * Reduced energy consumption by 563,017 kilowatt hours, a savings of $27,600/year;
    * Reduced emissions of coal/natural gas boilers by constructing a $2.8 million heat plant stack;
    * Renovated rather than demolished existing buildings to minimize contributions to landfills;
    * Reused light poles resulting in more energy efficiency and less light pollution, a $300,000 savings;
    * Received the 2003 EPA Leadership Award, one of the first 11 ever presented to a university; and
    * Received the 2004 National Wildlife Federation Award, the 2005 Energy Star Award, and the 2006 Wisconsin Clean Air Award.

    We have been recognized as a national model for developing and highlighting exemplary campus-wide Liberal Education programs:

    * Featured by the American Council on Education’s “Solutions for Our Future” at ;
    * Lauded by the Association of American Colleges and Universities for linking their initiative entitled Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) to the ACE’s “Solutions for Our Future” campaign at ;
    * Devoted three issues (Spring 2006, Fall 2006, and Spring 2007) of the UW Oshkosh Magazine to a three part series on the value and importance of a liberal education by featuring the outstanding accomplishments of the students, faculty, and staff that comprise our four colleges.

    Additional points of pride include:

    * The proposed growth agenda submitted by UW Oshkosh to support additional faculty and new programs was approved by the UW Board of Regents, and the Board will recommend to the Governor a level of funding that is higher than any other single comprehensive university in the state;
    * UW Oshkosh has won more Regents’ Teaching Excellence Awards than any other UW institution. Three individual faculty members and three departments have been awarded this recognition;
    * UW Oshkosh’s recruitment program, which has dramatically increased undergraduate student diversity, won the State Council on Affirmative Action 2005 Diversity Award;
    * UW Oshkosh has had the most successful Model United Nations Program in the nation for two decades running;
    * Since 1999, the College of Nursing graduate students’ pass rate on the American Nurses Credentialing Center-Family Nurse Practitioner Exam has been 100 percent;
    * Senior business majors at UW Oshkosh taking the ETS business knowledge assessment test have ranked in the top 5 percent nationwide.
    * UW Oshkosh students who took the CPA exam placed the university in the top 10 schools nationally;
    * Since 1990, 35 UW Oshkosh graduates have gone on to be awarded the Herb Kohl Teacher of the Year Award;
    * More special education teachers graduate from UW Oshkosh than any other UW institution;
    * Our students volunteer approximately 65,000 hours each year in service to the community;
    * Productions and scripts by UW Oshkosh radios-TV-film students have won 21 grand prizes in National Broadcasting Society competitions;
    * The Advance-Titian has won the top national award for student newspapers four times;
    * UW Oshkosh has won 37 national championships, including 23 NCAA Division III competitions;
    * UW Oshkosh sponsors the largest annual Earth Charter community summit in the world. The Earth Charter promotes ecological integrity, social and economic justice, and democracy, nonviolence and peace; and
    * UW Oshkosh has received the Governor’s Top Special Minority Business Award for the past three years.

    Given the recent budget cuts by the State, the scope of accomplishments noted above is astonishing, and represents a tribute to the unity, vigor, and dedication of our students, faculty, and academic and classified staff members. By focusing our resources on identified priorities, we have been able to accomplish many remarkable feats during the past five years.

    While we can thus speak with confidence and pride of the quality and distinctiveness of UW Oshkosh, efforts must continue to enhance our reputation beyond the campus boundaries. In response to this need, we are revamping our currently inconsistent, uneven, and highly decentralized communications and marketing activities. Our image and reputation are not aligned with the quality of our academic community, and this “brutal fact” is being addressed by the Integrated Marketing Team that was charged on February 17, 2006 to help focus the University’s image/brand in an honest and ethical way, and to enhance public awareness, appreciation and accessibility. Professor Birgit Leisen Pollack and Susan Neitzel are the team co-captains. The full membership and six-page charge can be found at . A draft of this plan will be filed and input will be solicited at numerous campus presentations this fall.

    We are currently completing the search for an Executive Director of Integrated Marketing and Communication. You may recall that when Robin Asbury vacated her Director of University Relations position, we did not fill it in order to help meet our budget challenges. We did, however, dramatically revise the nature of the position and change the title to Executive Director of Integrated Marketing and Communication. The Search Committee, chaired by Professor James Tsao and Professor Birgit Leisen Pollack , has done outstanding work and, consequently, we have three excellent finalists for this important position.

    In addition, the College of Business has opened a satellite center in Green Bay and we are in the final stages of opening a satellite UW Oshkosh office in Milwaukee. These “out-of-town” sites will enhance awareness of UW Oshkosh.

    Regarding the issue of rankings of higher education institutions, we believe in measuring and evaluating our performance and in holding ourselves accountable; however, we agree with the August 16, 2006 NY Times editorial that states, “rank colleges, but rank them right.” This attitude is doubly important now given that the recently released draft of the Spellings Commission Report on the Future of Higher Education recommends that colleges and universities use standardized testing to assess student learning in terms of outputs. It is clearly time for colleges and universities to step up to the plate and take responsibility for carefully accessing the relationship between student experience and student learning if we are to identify value added in a way that that would respect the diversity of student and social needs.

    One step in this direction is our participation in the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), which unlike the US News & World Report rankings measures output. Our latest NSSE results have improved and will be shared and discussed during the fall semester. Another is our plan to facilitate further campus-wide dialogue by supporting a Faculty College on the evaluation of higher education, centered on the Spellings Commission Report on the Future of Higher Education, the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), and other ranking systems, such as those found in US News & World Report.

    In closing, the following are examples of initiatives that we will support over the course of the coming year that will continue our commitment to enhance the quality and distinctiveness of our academic community.

    University Initiatives, Programs and Projects:

    Center for Scholarly Teaching

    University Honors Program (increased support)

    American Democracy Project (increased support)

    Office of International Education (increased support)

    Campus-wide Sustainability Team

    Black History Project

    Institute for the Study of Religion, Violence and Memory

    College Initiatives:

    COLS (Health Care Emphasis, minor in Social Justice, major in Bimolecular Science, and Informational Research Methods)

    COBA (Family Business Center and CASPER)

    COEHS (Special Education Outreach, Collaborative Baccalaureate with UW Sheboygan)

    CON (Laboratory Simulations, Clinical Simulations, and International Partnerships)

    We hope the ideas and information provided above are of some value as we continue to engage in a transparent exchange of ideas and actions focused upon adding value to all members of this wonderful academic community. It is not possible in this memo to enumerate the many individual accomplishments of the faculty, academic staff, and classified staff. As you know the annual reports, the UW Oshkosh Magazine, the Bulletin, and the numerous press stories detail the every day excellence of our faculty, academic staff, and classified staff. The Opening Day activities will provide another opportunity to celebrate individual achievements.

    We look forward to seeing you during the Opening Day ceremonies and to continuing our dialogue on the important issues of quality, distinctiveness and reputation at UW Oshkosh.

    Chancellor Richard Wells
    University of Wisconsin Oshkosh

    Thursday, August 24, 2006

    Discussion of rankings continues on the list

    Discussion has raged the last few days, continuing with the basic themes I mentioned in my earlier posts. Mike Lizotte has been arguing that the ratings benefit private colleges, not state institutions, so we shouldn't give them too much credence.

    Others have suggested we need a plan to improve our institution.

    Jonathon Gutow makes the best argument (because he basically agrees with me). He argues that class size is the biggest issue, but there is very little that we can do. We can abandon our research and teach more students or we need a large infusion of cash to hire new staff to get our ratios back down to our comparable institutions.

    The first one is not very palatable, since UWO, I think, has established quite a strong research base, which is also one of the cores of higher education.

    The second is completely unfathomable. We know that the legislature is not going to find extra money to hire more staff, unless we can show 'growth.' Tuition is already rising astronomically, so there is no hope that students could help fund this project.

    That leaves us between a rock and a hard place. Could we play the statistics, and get our ratings up. Would that get us more money? Is there a way to attract higher ranked students without spending more?

    I'm stumped as I type this. . .