Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Michael Berube on academic freedom

Check out this very detailed and interesting talk that a lit. professor at Penn State gave about the recent attacks on academic freedom in higher education.

Michael Bérubé Online

How To Fight RateMyProfessors.com

I mentioned rate my students a few weeks ago, and so here is a continuation of the discussion with an article calling for more public information about teaching evaluations.

I think that this is a good idea. I don't understand why some faculty members here are afraid of written comments.

As you remember, last year, the faculty senate voted to remove comments from our evaluation forms in the wake of a request from a mother of a student to see the results. Outside of obscene and degrading comments (which is what ratemyprofessors.com has become), it would be better if all the info were available to students.

I see comments as an important source of improving my teaching, without them, our evaluation system is a completely irrellevent exercise.

This is what the article argues, though I would disagree with his premise that students should be seen as consumers. It is a resonant analogy, but incorrect in terms of the relationship between teachers and students.

Inside Higher Ed :: How To Fight RateMyProfessors.com

Monday, January 30, 2006

Welcome Back Oshkosh!

Today is the first day of classes! What lies ahead in the next few months?

All I can say is that it was nice to see a little snow on the ground this morning. Has this been the most terrible winter or what?? We started strong in December and have now been stuck with days of muck and grime. All this new snow will probably be slush within a few days, too.

Welcome to the world of global warming! 2005 was the warmest year on record and January 2006 was the warmest as well. I wonder if we will even have snow in a decade. You can read the latest dire forecast from the British government at the BBC

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Econ Department to move to Clow Faculty

The latest news to circulate is that arrangements have been made to move the Econ department from Swart to Clow Faculty. They will be swapping with the Social Work department.

From what I know, those Swart accomodations are much nicer than those across the street in Clow, so I imagine social work will be happy with their upgraded facilties.

I suppose that if they are working on new offices, the official announcement approving the news should not be long in coming.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Lots of sexual harassment at U.S. colleges

In more good news about the quality of higher education in the U.S., the AAUW reports a study that says that 62% of college students have faced some sort of sexual harassment and 32% say they were victims of physical harrassment.

It's always nice to see another story about the healthy lives of undergraduates!

CNN.com - Study: Sexual harassment at U.S. colleges - Jan 24, 2006

No more money to tape professors

The latest update of the saga of taping professors. The organization that started this has withdrawn its cash offer for tapes and notes.

Instead, they solicit anonymous denunciations without compensation!

UCLA Profs.com - Exposing UCLA's Radical Professors - Articles Index

Monday, January 23, 2006

Discussion on taping professors

In order to save myself the work of complaining about the idea of taping lectures to "out" liberal professors, I post these links.

Babblemur shakes his head (I assume negatively) here.

Tony Palmeri notes that it has all been done before at his blog.

Finally, a graduate student in english comments here on the real financial problems facing higher ed and wonders why these critics don't worry about them.

Inside Higher Ed :: An Idea Too Dangerous to Ignore

Saturday, January 21, 2006

New Approach to Professor Abuse

You may have seen this story already, but I have to add a link. An organization at UCLA is asking students to tape their professors to "expose" their liberal bias.

Oddly Enough News Article | Reuters.com

College students lack literacy for complex tasks

I mentioned some of this data a few weeks ago on the blog, but it has it the national media this week. It ran on the front page of the Northwestern yesterday and made CNN this weekend as well.

It is an quite a problem for higher education to see statistics like this, but it is well known that our standards as teachers have been dropping for years. Any comparison of the amount of work we asked out of students a decade ago or more would show a drastic reduction. On the other hand, a greater number of students are less prepared than they would have been then.

CNN.com - Study: College students lack literacy for complex tasks - Jan 20, 2006

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Doyle Proposes Wisconsin Covenant

In his state of the state address last night, Doyle proposed a program affecting higher ed, which promised to cover the college tuition for students who keep a B average from 8th-12th grade. The proposal seems a bit vague at this point, but at least this should generate some discussion about how to help kids pay the skyrocketing tuition bills.

Here is a quote from his press release:

Making Wisconsin More Affordable for Working Families – College

The Governor also unveiled a bold new proposal called the Wisconsin Covenant, designed to encourage college enrollment and raise achievement in elementary and secondary education.

“Anyone who knows me will tell you my first priority as Governor has been education,” Governor Doyle said. “And that is why, as part of my Affordability Agenda, I’m proposing an historic new commitment to make college more affordable for hardworking Wisconsin families and give our students added incentive to succeed in the classroom.”

The Wisconsin Covenant will be open to any eighth-grade student that has some level of financial need. Students must sign an agreement to maintain a B average in high school, complete a specified core curriculum, and apply for state and federal financial aid. Students who meet these requirements will receive a financial aid package that meets their full financial need for tuition to any University of Wisconsin system school that they are accepted into.

Similar programs have been implemented in Indiana, Oklahoma, and North Carolina. The Governor challenged the business community and private foundations to help fund this initiative. North Carolina has had considerable success in partnering with private businesses, non-profits, and individuals to fund its version of the Wisconsin Covenant.

“I am asking the University system, the business community, the Legislature, and the people of Wisconsin to join me in this effort,” Governor Doyle said. “When it comes to our children’s future, let’s think big. Let’s make sure that in Wisconsin, every child who works for it can get a world class education.”

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Wisconsin Rates High in Return on University Spending

A new report came out yesterday from the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems. They tried to rate how well university systems were using their resources. The UW system ranked in the top five. The overall rating was lower because we received a much lower ranking for the community college system.

Wisconsin was among the best for numbers of PhDs and BAs produced per dollar spent.

Pages 28-30 of the report compare Georgia and Wisconsin. The states spend similar amounts, but Wisconsin's results are much better.

The report proposes that fewer minorities, fewer part-time students, and more spending on student services might provide some reasons for the difference. The report adds that there is a direct correlation between income levels and high school preparation, both places where WI beats GA.

All of this data seems to suggest that we are not squandering resources on administration or in other ways that the anti-system legislators like to claim.

It also reinforces the idea that investing in Wisconsin higher education is a sound, both in the short term and the longer term.

Maybe Doyle will take time out of his state of the state address to call for re-funding the universities, so that we can improve on what is already a solid public education system.

Here is the link to the study (a pdf file)

Here is the link to the Inside Higher Ed story that pointed me to it

Monday, January 16, 2006

How about this? Professors anonymously berate their students.

Another anonymous faculty member somewhere decided that he was fed up with ratemyprofessor.com and struck back.

Read their ranting at the link below. . .

Rate Your Students

Friday, January 13, 2006

Clips from working paper on RA's

A reader sent a copy of the working paper about RAs for the UW system. I'll just excerpt the concluding principles here:

I. RAs are expected to work with student residents to create an open, inclusive, and
supportive residential community.
II. RAs are expected to encourage student engagement in campus activities and
organizations, and to promote opportunities for student residents to explore their values
and beliefs.
III. Because the University encourages student engagement in campus activities and
organizations as an essential component of students’ educational experience, and
because individuals holding RA positions are students, RAs are encouraged to
participate in campus activities and organizations.
IV. The University, as employer, has the right to establish reasonable restrictions on RA
activities as a condition of employment, due to the unique requirements of the RA
V. RAs should not use their position to inappropriately influence, pressure, or coerce
student residents.

These principles seem to be good ones and should lead to the exclusion of bible study in RAs dorms. We'll see if the Christianist legislators will accept it, or howl that they are being discriminated against.

Public invited to comment on role of resident assistants in UW System - Jan 11, 2006

System is asking for public comment on role of RAs. Write in and tell them that RA should not be organizing religious or political meetings in their dorm rooms. Take it outside their workplace!

Here is the comment link.

And here is the press release:

Public invited to comment on role of resident assistants in UW System - Jan 11, 2006

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Economics only waits for Provost

The Advance-Titan reports on the Economics move. Here we learn that COBA has approved the move and everyone waits for the final negotiations and a signature from Lane Earns.

Although I am clearly in the minority on this, I don't really see any good coming from this for the college. Zimmerman and the nasty, bitter economists will be happy, but it doesn't serve the mission of the university well.

I propose that we remove economics electives from the general education requirement. We should accept the economists self-definition as preparatory for a business degree, and not one of the liberal arts. There are no other courses from other colleges in the general education requirements. Why should economics get a special status when they leave COLS? They can take all the business classes they want as electives, but we shouldn't be encouraging students to leave our college for core courses.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Salaries In COBA

As new rumors about the econ department have been swirling lately, I wondered what the salary differential was like. Besides the hatred for Dean Zimmerman that oozes from that department, perhaps they are thinking that they will get a big salary boost so that they will be financial equals of their new colleagues.

Here are the figures for all ranks of professors:

COBA: 85,700
Economics: 65,200
English: 52,400

The economists are already doing quite well relative to the English department, but perhaps they are hoping for another $20,000 to balance with business. I'd vote to change colleges if they offered me 20 grand!

Monday, January 09, 2006

Bible Bullying appropriate at UWO, says e-pluribus unum

I was browsing the local blogosphere, when I came upon this response to the on-going discussion about religion in the dorms.

James Fitzhenry complains that I have an anti-Christian bias because I am against RAs holding bible studies in their room.

He picked up on the term that I have been using of late to describe the right-wing Christian movement in this country "Christianist." I did not invent this term. (Check out this language blog about it). I think that it is a great way to describe those radicals on the right who believe that we should live in a society that is oppressively dominated by their particular view of Christianity. It is an analog to describing the Taliban as Islamists, in order to separate them from mainstream Islam.

The stories tend to repeat themselves. From complaining that Christmas is being repressed, to arguing that Christians should have the right to proselytize with state money, their vision of society is deeply opposed to mine. America should stand for tolerance and openness, not religious repression. Minority views need to be respected, and not treated as unpatriotic or offensive. Moderate Christians need to stand up to the outlandish rhetoric from the Christianists.

As I have said before, bible studies on campus are fine. RAs should keep them out of their workplace, just as professors should. I hope that no professors are spending their class time telling students that they should come to their office and learn more about their personal interpretations of the bible either.

As I think about it, I have always been a separation activist. When I was in high school, I wrote letters to the school paper complaining about my geometry teacher who kept telling us about his personal commitment to Christ and inviting us to join the fellowship of Christian Athletes. Just as I was then, I don't believe that your personal belief in any faith is appropriate in spaces where it is not the topic.

If that is irrational (as Mr. Fitzhenry suggests), so be it.

Here is the link to the Northwestern sponsored blog, called e-pluribus unum

Wisconsin pathetic on higher education spending.

The annual survey of state spending on higher education came to my attention tdoay. (called Grapevine)

It demonstrates how bad the situation for higher education is here in Wisconsin. I had always assumed (even after the last few years) that this was a state that cared about producing an educated and skilled population. Apparently I was dead wrong.

Wisconsin is 30th in per capita spending on higher education, and rates in the bottom 12 in every category of spending changes over the past 10 years.

Here is a table of data of midwestern states, drawn from all the data at the site above. You can see Wisconsin is second from the bottom among midwestern states for the past ten years:

STATES 1-yr Change 2-yr Change 5-yr Change 10-yr Change
Illinois -2.6% -3.2% -3.8% 31.4%
Indiana 0.9% 5.2% 11.5% 46.4%
Iowa 4.9% 5.7% -8.4% 15.7%
Michigan 3.3% 1.7% -9.2% 20.3%
Minnesota 7.2% 6.1% 1.2% 28.0%
Ohio 0.5% 2.0% -3.2% 26.7%
Wisconsin 2.5% 1.5% -3.3% 16.5%
Totals 5.3% 9.7% 9.9% 50.1%

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The American Historical Association votes to criticize 'Academic Bill of Rights'

Historians voted at their annual meeting to condemn Horowitz's attack on academic independence.

Apparently, there was a debate about whether this should extend to all forms of speech codes on campus. The council decided not to extend their condemnation, arguing that the current threat was the "academic bill of rights," not speech codes, which have been blocked by courts in the past.

I am sympathetic to intellectual freedoms of all types, so I can understand the argument that this kind of condemnation should include all codes that want to restrict independent discussion on campus. However, we know that is not what the Horowitzers of the world want.

Inside Higher Ed :: More Criticism of 'Academic Bill of Rights'

Friday, January 06, 2006

Northwestern story on bible study

The Northwestern reported this morning on the UW committee that is trying to devise a system-wide policy about whether RAs can proselytize on the job.

Their report mentions UWOs lack of policy, while quoting everyone's favorite Christianist and UW hater Ron Kreibich weighs in at the end, quoted as saying that he doesn't care as long as it is "safe, legal and voluntary." Too bad he doesn't feel that way about any policies or practices he disagrees with.

Oshkosh Northwestern - UW committee considers behavior of dorm workers

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Blogs: has their time finally come -- or gone? -- McIntosh 1 (3): 385 -- Global Media and Communication

This link contains a short article discussing the future of blogs and their relationship to the MSM.

It raises the issue of how one knows whether a blog has an impact. The author suggests that incoming links is a useful tool.

Hopefully, this link will work for you. It shows me as a subscriber through the UW network, so I don't know if it will work if you are outside.

Web Review: Blogs: has their time finally come -- or gone? -- McIntosh 1 (3): 385 -- Global Media and Communication

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Am I contradictory?

In a response to the NY Times article below, janine asked me if there was a contradiction between Horowitz attempt to restrict speech on campus and my opinion that RA's should not be holding bible study in their work-space. I started to comment directly to her, but decided to move it since my reply kept growing:

First, teaching at a university and being an RA in a dormitory are very different occupations with different expectations. My job is not to provide support for dorm residents as they adjust to college life.

Second, I don't think classrooms are appropriate spaces for political discussions, outside of classes on political science. Students are there to learn a certain content and to learn ways of interpreting the content which is placed before them.

As part of that process, the comfortable notions which students often bring to their classes are challenged. That is what a college education is about. Occasionally, students who are not open to listening to diverse opinions are offended.

Usually, the views with which the offended students are presented come from a part of the spectrum which is foreign to current American political discourse--the left. The David Horowitzs of the world think that it is a bad thing to be forced to confront ideas with which you might not agree. The John Ashcrofts of the world claim it aids terrorism to question the administration. It is not surprising that students don't like to hear about alternative world-views.

In my own teaching, I am sure I come across like some radical leftist. I continually emphasize the power and appeal of left-wing ideas, because it is clearly so foreign to my students. Many simply can not conceive how anyone would ever believe anything different than they do.

The Horowitz crowd, and his Christianist legislator supporters, don't seem to believe in critical thinking and being exposed to a diversity of opinions. They see it as a threat that students might have to confront ideas that disagree with their own. Bible study fits this mold--the RAs are not looking to critically analyze the diversity of interpretations of the bible, but are trying to convince their charges that their own view is the right own.

A historian named Bill Cronon who gave a presentation on campus a few months ago described history as the stories we tell about our past. I want my students to think about the reasons that some stories are dominant and others are lost. This is what education is about, not having your own stories recited back to you without any analysis.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Northwestern calls new buildings "gentrification"

In the editorial today, entitled Agenda 2006, the local paper describes the new buildings on campus as gentrification.

I am not sure what they are trying to get at, but it seems to be a poor choice of words. Is having modern classroom space the same as driving out the poor, so that richer people can move in? Is having a new athletic facility pricing lower income students out of UWO?

UWO is not at fault for the gentrification here or of the UW system. Instead, it is the legislators in Madison who cut our budget and force us to raise tuition to cover the costs of running a world-class educational institution.

The Northwestern should be editorializing for increasing state aid and providing more access to education, instead of suggesting that new buildings are part of a plot to change the nature of our institution.

Here is the link

Attacks on professors in Pennsylvania

I was reading the Sunday NY Times this weekend and noticed a letter to the editor that referenced an earlier article about the legislators in Pennsylvania. It also describes the broader national propaganda attacking "left-wing" professors, led by David Horowitz. Luckily, as the article explains, so far nothing has come of it except a lot of noise.

The letter was great--an MBA writing about her right-wing classmates and teachers--asking why no one was investigating their open bias and attacks on her.

The Times may sue me for copyright violation, but here is the article:

Professors' Politics Draw Lawmakers Into the Fray
Published: December 25, 2005

While attending a Pennsylvania Republican Party picnic, Jennie Mae Brown bumped into her state representative and started venting.

''How could this happen?'' Ms. Brown asked Representative Gibson C. Armstrong two summers ago, complaining about a physics professor at the York campus of Pennsylvania State University who she said routinely used class time to belittle President Bush and the war in Iraq. As an Air Force veteran, Ms. Brown said she felt the teacher's comments were inappropriate for the classroom.

The encounter has blossomed into an official legislative inquiry, putting Pennsylvania in the middle of a national debate spurred by conservatives over whether public universities are promoting largely liberal positions and discriminating against students who disagree with them.

A committee held two hearings last month in Pittsburgh and has scheduled another for Jan. 9 in Philadelphia. A final report with any recommendations for legislative remedy is due in June.

The investigation comes at a time when David Horowitz, a conservative commentator and president of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, has been lobbying more than a dozen state legislatures to pass an ''Academic Bill of Rights'' that he says would encourage free debate and protect students against discrimination for expressing their political beliefs.

While Mr. Horowitz insists his campaign for intellectual diversity is nonpartisan, it is fueled, in large measure, by studies that show the number of Democratic professors is generally much larger than the number of Republicans. A survey in 2003 by researchers at Santa Clara University found the ratio of Democrats to Republicans on college faculties ranged from 3 to 1 in economics to 30 to 1 in anthropology.

Mr. Horowitz said he was pushing for legislation only because schools across the country were ignoring their own academic freedom regulations and a founding principle of the American Association of University Professors, which says schools are better equipped to regulate themselves without government intervention.

''It became apparent to me that universities have a problem,'' he said in an interview. ''And nothing was being done about it.''

Mr. Horowitz and his allies are meeting forceful resistance wherever they go, by university officials and the professors association, which argues that conservatives are overstating the problem and, by seeking government action, are forcing their ideology into the classroom.

''Mechanisms exist to address these glitches and to fix them,'' said Joan Wallach Scott, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., and former chairwoman of the professors association committee on academic freedom, in testimony at the Pennsylvania Legislature's first hearing. ''There is no need for interference from outside legislative or judicial agencies.''

In a debate with Mr. Horowitz last summer, Russell Jacoby, a history professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, portrayed Mr. Horowitz's approach as heavy-handed. ''It calls for committees or prosecutors to monitor the lectures and assignments of teachers,'' he said. ''This is a sure-fire way to kill free inquiry and whatever abuses come with it.''

So far, the campaign has produced more debate than action. Colorado and Ohio agreed to suspend legislative efforts to impose an academic bill of rights in favor of pledges by their state schools to uphold standards already in place. Georgia passed a resolution discouraging ''political or ideological indoctrination'' by teachers, encouraging them to create ''an environment conducive to the civil exchange of ideas.''

While comparable efforts failed in three other states, measures are pending in 11 others. In Congress, House and Senate committees passed a general resolution this year encouraging American colleges to promote ''a free and open exchange of ideas'' in their classrooms and to treat students ''equally and fairly.'' It awaits floor action next year.

Mr. Horowitz's center has spawned a national group called Students for Academic Freedom that uses its Web site to collect stories from students who say they have been affected by political bias in the classroom. The group says it has chapters on more than 150 campuses.

The student group has fielded concerns from people like Nathaniel Nelson, a former student at the University of Rhode Island and a conservative, who said a philosophy teacher he had during his junior year referred often to his own homosexuality and made clear his dislike for Mr. Bush.

Mr. Nelson, now a graduate student at the University of Connecticut, said in an interview that the teacher frequently called on him to defend his conservative values while making it clear he did not care for Republicans.

''On the first day of class, he said, 'If you don't like me, get out of my class,' '' Mr. Nelson said. ''But it was the only time that fall the course was being offered, and I wanted to take it.''

Marissa Freimanis said she encountered a similar situation in her freshman English class at California State University, Long Beach, last year. Ms. Freimanis said the professor's liberal bias was clear in the class syllabus, which suggested topics for members of the class to write about. One was, ''Should Justice Sandra Day O'Connor be impeached for her partisan political actions in the Bush v. Gore case?''

''Of course, I felt very uncomfortable,'' Ms. Freimanis, who is a Republican, said in an interview.

In Pennsylvania, lawmakers are examining whether the political climate at 18 state-run schools requires legislation to ban bias. Mr. Armstrong said he discussed the issue in several conversations with Mr. Horowitz ''as an expert in the field'' before calling for the creation of a committee.

''But I don't know if his Academic Bill of Rights is necessary in Pennsylvania,'' Mr. Armstrong said in an interview. ''Before we have legislation to change a problem, we first have to determine whether the problem exists. If it does exist, the next question is, 'Is it significant enough to require legislation?' ''

''So the question I'm asking,'' he added, ''is, 'Do we have a problem in Pennsylvania?' ''

For now, the answer is unclear. While Mr. Armstrong said he had received complaints from ''about 50 students'' who said they were intimidated by professors expressing strong political views, Democratic members of the committee have called the endeavor a waste of time, and the Republican chairman, Representative Thomas L. Stevenson, seemed to agree.

''If our report were issued today,'' Mr. Stevenson said, ''I'd say our institutions of higher education are doing a fine job.''