Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Getting Rid of Textbooks

Yesterday, the Northwestern picked up on a discussion that had a short life on our list about using textbooks. The article leads with Michael Buryadi describing how he no longer uses a textbook in his classes.

The discussion on the list and in the paper mentions several others who do this. I was struck by the massive amount of effort that Buryadi put into it. I wonder if he got anything else done over break.

Textbooks are horribly overpriced, but I am not sure that converting to articles is going to solve the problem for most of my classes. Basic information is made nicely accessible in textbooks and is often not available in article format. Doing it myself seems a bit like reinventing the wheel. It is also a big investment in time that can be better spent doing research.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Chancellor Wells on the Good Budget News

Chancellor Wells sent out this message, expressing his happiness with the news stories this weekend. He adds a few details of specifics for our campus--perhaps an increase of 350 students in "high demand" majors. And, even better, no overall cut in support levels!

To: UW Oshkosh Community
From: Richard H. Wells, Chancellor
Date: January 29, 2007

Re: Governor's Budget Proposal

I have good news for you today regarding the growth agenda. In news accounts that appeared yesterday, Governor Doyle announced that his budget will provide $225 million of additional funding over the next two years for Higher Education and financial aid. The vast majority of that additional funding will be for the University of Wisconsin institutions. The additional funding will provide a significant portion of the money requested for the Wisconsin growth agenda that includes institutional initiatives to increase the number of baccalaureate degrees, workforce development, teacher training, nursing, and increased student enrollment. This represents a very positive step in the State budget process.

We in northeastern Wisconsin greatly appreciate the fact that Governor Doyle has listened to business and community leaders about the need to fund the Wisconsin growth agenda. President Reilly and the Board of Regents under the leadership of David Walsh are also to be commended for working with the Governor to highlight the need to reinvest in the UW institutions. I am also pleased to report positive initial reaction to the need for the growth agenda that I obtained in earlier conversations with members of our local and regional legislative delegation, including Senator Carol Roessler and Representative Gordon Hintz. I am quite optimistic that this part of the Governor’s budget can become a bi-partisan priority for the citizens of Wisconsin.

We at UW Oshkosh and other campuses across the System need to continue to seek the support of the broader public including community and business leaders, as well as legislators, in order to see this funding through the legislative process. Governor Doyle will provide more details of his proposal during his State of the State speech tomorrow and on February 13 during his State Budget address.

What we know so far is that there will be full funding for cost-to-continue dollars for the UW System and all UW campuses. In other words, there will be no cut in State budget support. As mentioned above, it also means substantial funding for the campus growth agendas and student financial aid. For UW Oshkosh, depending on the level of state support, this means funding additional faculty to support the growth of about 350 students over the next two years in existing high demand programs and new programs.

As a reminder, the existing funding of our growth agenda is less than what we proposed in March of last year (see my memo of March 29, 2006 http://www.uwosh.edu/chancellor/documents/growthagenda2attach_000.doc, and the related power point http://www.uwosh.edu/chancellor/documents/NEWIgrowthagendaBOR.ppt), but should be a substantial portion of the 62% of the March total that was approved by the Board of Regents in August (see August 2006 press release in the UW Oshkosh University Relations news archives http://www.uwosh.edu/news_bureau/releases/aug06/budget.html.

I will continue to supply you with more information as it becomes available. Again, while the budget process is not complete, we are off to a good start, and there is considerable hope that support of the northeastern Wisconsin growth agenda and financial aid is forthcoming.

Cc: Governor Jim Doyle
Senator Carol Roessler
Representative Gordon Hintz
Board of Regents
UWS Administration
Foundation Board
Oshkosh Council of Advisors
Milwaukee Council of Advisors
New North Board
Regional Media Leaders

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Doyle Suggests More Money for us!

Everyone reports today that Doyle has put the "growth agenda" on his list of priorities for the new state budget.

This is good news! Instead of talking about how big the cuts will be, we can talk about how a new infusion of resources can help us recover from the past few years. Even if we don't get all the money (which seems likely) at least it will be a better conversation!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Wholistic Admissions on a national scale

The NYTimes is running a story today (reg required) about the ways universities are dealing with the bans on affirmative action that are being passed in many state.

They are doing exactly what we are doing. They remove race as official factor and replace it with socio-economic level, personal achievements, etc.

The article goes on to note that the Ward Connerlys of the world are challenging those factors as well, claiming they are just a cover for racial preferences.

I have blogged about this before, but it is an issue that will be with us for some time.

Is it really unreasonable to use something beyond grades and (biased) standardized tests to determine college admissions? I don't think so.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

How Christianists try to Rewrite History

Harpers magazine has posted a long article describing the way that Christianists envision American history.

It is a scary description of the certainty of the radical fringe who want to create a theocracy here. The reporter details the bizarro history of Christianist heroes, that demonstrate that America is god's country, chosen to dominate the world and lead to the rapture.

Check it out!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The latest on bias among faculty members

The AFT commissioned a study to refute/discuss other studies that claimed left-wing bias among university faculties. It is an old, repetitive story, but it is something to post today.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Do we have a problem with 'knowledge deficits'?

It would seem that conservatives are dominating the public discussion of educational reform. I found a review of E.D. Hirsch's new book (you remember him--Cultural Literacy, etc. from a few years ago.) He argues that problems in reading are really problems in knowledge.

Students' weak reading skills are because they have no context to help dig out the meanings of texts. They can sound out all the words, but they have little understanding.

His solution would be stronger core curriculum, heavily based on facts -- the standard E.D. Hirsch argument.

This thesis would grate against a freshman "toolbox" course. If the problem is based on lack of knowledge, providing more training on 'how' to read or study won't do much good.

I am sympathetic to the argument that the knowledge that students bring to campus is incredibly thin, and they often seem uninterested in going into detail.

Think of how easy it is to get kids to pontificate on current events, based on very little information--ask them to discuss something that requires some knowledge acquistion and see how far you get!

Friday, January 19, 2007

Quality and the Annual Report

I was perusing the colorful annual report that was sent to everyone last week. I am struck by the real contradictions in what the administration says and what they are actually doing.

In particular, if you read the Provost's letter, one would get the impression that academic quality was important. He stresses four new administrative efforts to raise quality.

If you look at the statistics in the back, the situation is much bleaker. How can you have a quality institution that has 8.5% percent fewer faculty, who are being replaced by academic staff (up almost 16%)? Even this doesn't seem to cover the needs of our campus, as student faculty ratio has gotten worse by 15.8%, teaching loads have increased, sections offered have decreased while tuition and enrollment has grown.

Student quality has basically remained constant over the time period, but it is hard to see how that can continue as we drop in all the relevant teaching statistics.

Why is there no worry about the basic function of our institution in the statements from the administration? Why are we worrying about administrative initiatives when we should be filling the myriad of vacant positions and increasing the size of our faculty?

The brochure is glossy and well-produced, but the data within paints a bleak picture for the direction of our institution.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Creationist "museum" opening soon

This is off the topic for normal blog posts, but I was taken with this story. The creationists have raised $30 million to build a monument to their own refusal to accept modern science.

I imagine Sandra Gade is probably already planning her trip!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Should First Year Experience Address Gender Gap?

Insidehigher.ed has been reporting on the latest survey of student attitudes. Today, they emphasize the gender gap in the ways students perceive education. Women come to college as more serious students who are more interested in reading and learning.

The article suggests that this may partly account for the increasing percentage and success of women in college. That is an interesting conclusion in itself. It also raises the question of whether we need to work on providing different kinds of orientation based on gender. Men apparently need more handholding. Should we take heed?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Do we need a stronger core curriculum?

I just read this article by a Hoover Institute Scholar who proposes that a liberal arts education needs to be premised on a very strict core curriculum. He argues that the academy needs to recover J.S. Mill's concept of "many-sidedness" needs to be restored to the curriculum. Mill is quoted as saying the goal of university should be:

that which it is the chief of all the ends of intellectual education to qualify us for — the exercise of thought on the great interests of mankind as moral and social beings — ethics and politics, in the largest sense.

The article then presents a very conservative vision of what a core should look like, focused heavily on western history and foreign language. He blames everyone for compromising their standards, but particularly picks up the old stereotype of liberal professors indotrinating their students.

I don't necesssarily agree with his conclusions, but it does raise some very important issues.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Professor jailed for jaywalking

I like this story that showed up on insidehighered.com (the link is to the Atlanta Journal). A Tufts professor was knocked to the ground and arrested for jaywalking outside his conference. He spent 8 hours in a cell before he made bail.

You can read all the serious commentary if you like, but all I'll say is that this was an amusing news story!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Problems when a CEO runs your university

The NYTimes this morning is running a story (reg. required) about the strife at Pace University in Manhattan. He has instituted all sorts of changes that have not helped and convinced the trustees to pay him almost $700,000/year.

The theme for the article is how university presidents are becoming increasingly estranged from the faculties.

It is an interesting read, and reminds of the increasing tensions between our own chancellor and the faculty here. I shouldn't have to remind everyone about the issues that we have faced since I started this blog, but Chancellor Wells has demonstrated quite an imperial tendency himself.

The vision of the head of the university operating like a business CEO has caused great tension for academia in many ways, but most importantly, in the structure of governance. Administrations, including our own, seem to be convinced that they don't need to follow the rules of governance and should have somethign akin to absolute power over the universities.

It is a problematic trend that reaches beyond our own discussions.

Monday, January 08, 2007

How to be a 'wired' campus

I just spotted this article from PCMagazine about the top 20 wired college campuses across the country. They only polled a few schools, but you can get an idea about what the computer people think is important.

Is it really important that students are given a laptop every 2 years? Does there need to be a computer lab in every building on campus? How wireless should a campus be?

I am not sure any of it is very important. It seems to me to often be,a distraction from the real purposes of education.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Is Free Tuition Plan Dead?

The Journal Sentinal reported yesterday that our good friend Steve Nass has declared Free Tuition dead on arrival. Does this signal the death knell of the plan? As the article points out, it is not much more than a clever idea at the moment.

Insidehighered.com ran an article as well, discussing both our and Indiana's plan. They interview a few people who claim that it won't help. The most substantial criticism is that only 25% of grads leave. Thus, most of the money goes to students who would stay anyway.

I like this as the basis of conversation, however. Instead of contemplating new ways to cut, people can talk about ways to increase access and quality.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

College students claim they want novelty and risk

Happy New Year everyone!

My first post of the new year is a link to a Washington Post story today (reg required) about College students' definitions of fun.

It starts with a survey from a website, where students rate their definitions of fun in a pretty standard way -- booze and sex. They then interview a philosophy professor, who describes the "sophisticated" distinctions college students make.

In the end, the author makes her own conclusions that novelty and risk are the most "fun" for students.