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.