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.