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?