Wednesday, March 28, 2007

John Koker is the new COLS dean

Yesterday, it was announced that John Koker was offered and accepted the position of Dean of COLS on a permanent basis.

John seems to have done a fine job in his last nine months as acting dean. Lets hope that the pattern continues.

Beyond John himself, this would seem to be an approval of the status quo for us. There will be no fresh perspectives to bring change. I didn't get involved much in the search, so I can't comment on the strengths and weaknesses of the other candidates. However, do you think that this was the right decision from the perspective of continuity?

Generally, COLS continues to function decently, but would a more radical shakeup have been beneficial? I can't decide, how about you?

21 comments:

lammers said...

Many administrators feel a need to "leave their mark" on an institution. That phrase always worries me; sounds too much like vandalism. Conjures up images of a hoodlum carving his initials into the desktop with a switchblade, or a dog whizzing on a fire hydrant to mark his territory.

All else being equal, I prefer administrators who adopt a "good steward" model. "Stay the course" has a nice ring to it when things are going well.

Yes, sometimes institutions are in dire straits and need radical fixes. "Desperate times call for desperate measures." But if things are cruising along on a nice even keel, I just don't see a need to be whipping up a froth just to demonstrate greatness. There's no need to create great new programs simply for the sake of "making one's mark."

Of course, to folks farther up the line, "Stayed in budget!" and "Graduated 5,000 students a year!" just doesn't have the same glamor and glitz as "Created 16 new programs supported by extra-mural funding to address concerns outlined in our strategic initiative." Nature of the beast, I guess.

That's why I'm staying OUT of administration.

Anyway, I certainly wish John all best. I'm sure he'll do a fine job for everyone.

Anonymous said...

You can read Tony's comments on John over at his blog:

http://talktotony.blogspot.com/2007_03_01_archive.html#2498825673313723904

Anonymous said...

Before I began, I want to out my self. I'm a student.

I like reading your blog because it is interesting to learn about the other side to the university. I finished reading Dr. Palmeri's blog about Dr. Koker's appointment.

One thing Dr. Palmeri said stuck out: the need to resolve professional and scholarly production.

If Dr. Palmeri is proposing that
Dr. Koker lower standards, that's a big problem. Some professors on campus are plain burned out. He should find a creative retirement solution for these professors.

In my junior year, I had a professor who complained about the dead wood professors on campus. He/she said people weren't publishing.

One day, I checked the scholarly publications for about ten departements in the COL.

I found two departments in the COL with a 13-year publication lag. That's right - the entire department, including the department chair, had not produced a single piece of scholarly work in over a decade. Pitiful.

Of the two, one department is currently hiring new professors. Because the department is hiring new people, it is a great opportunity to improve the faculty.

Does the dean approve or deny the hiring of new professors? Can Dr. Koker recruit an older professor who can take over as department chair? A ten plus year publication lag is horrible.

I think it's hypocritical for professors to scream about grade inflation and other student ills if they are unwilling to police themselves and accept higher standards as well.

I certainly do not wish to offend anyone but I hope to share my opinion as a student.

Anonymous said...

Thomas Paine says

glad to hear that a student is saying what many of my fellow academics should be saying. Not hard to guess which deartment the student was referring to.

Yes, the final decision about hiring a new prof is made by the dean. The department can only recommend.

Under certain circumstances a new chair can be brought from outside to help a department that is in trouble.

However there is not much Koker or anyone else can do with deadwood. So yes, we need to find a better way to police ourselves

lammers said...

The anonymous student wrote: "One thing Dr. Palmeri said stuck out: the need to resolve professional and scholarly production."

If I'm not mistaken, I think Tony was primarily talking about a clarification of what *sorts* of activities actually constitute scholarly product. In some disciplines, scholarly product largely takes the conventional form of peer-reviewed publications of a research or review nature. In other disciplines, however, there may be other things that could be argued would appropriately "count" as scholarly product, but which might not be recognized as such by others. Some things that seem to be "service" to one person might be "scholarly activity" to another. The importance of clarifying this distinction is that when a faculty member's performance is evaluated, Scholarly Activity counts for much more than Service.

I find that a lot of our students are largely unaware to the true nature and scope of the faculty's professional activities. Most seem to think it's not much different than what their high school teachers did. (That certainly seems to be the perception in society at large.) I'm pleased to see a student interested in learning about the nuts-'n'-bolts of academia; it's something I try to clue students in to, when the opportunity arises.

Anonymous said...

but the student does raise a serious issue about academia not policing itself. Should that not be addressed?

lammers said...

Anonymous said: "but the student does raise a serious issue about academia not policing itself. Should that not be addressed?"

What one person perceives as a terrible problem is merely a petty annoyance to another.

Remember that we are not just dealing with a company and employees here. State law lays done VERY specific rules of due process for university professors. Just as some bemoan how Miranda Rights "hamstring" law enforcement, so too can these rules be seen by some as an impediment to a strong university. But just like Miranda Rights, doing WITHOUT them would cause far more trouble.

Although it is very easy to label a professor "dead wood" because he does not live up to my or your idea of proper productivity, it may not be a fair accusation. Things are rarely "either-or" and "black-or-white." It's a judgment call. As in most endeavors, there's more than one way to skin a cat, i.e., there is more than one way to be a top-knotch professor.

When I was an undergraduate at Iowa State in the 1970s, I had a professor who had published virtually nothing. But he was just about the most inspiring and wonderful teacher and advisor possible. I would not be a biology professor today if not for him. (I was a journalism major at the time.) He may have seemed like "dead wood" to some, but to me he was the most vital person in the entire department.

That's why I think caution is required before we grab up the torches and pitchforks and storm the castle screaming about "accountability." There are mechanisms in place to address genuine problems, people who for whatever reason do not bring *anything* of value to the table.

In a nutshell, the point is not worth addressing because academia *does* police itself, within the confines of what is possible under state law. There will always be annoyances here and there but almost any cure one could suggest would cause WAY more problems than the "disease."

Anonymous said...

Thomas Paine says

ahhh the old we don't have a problem answer. I know the departments the student is refering to and every other faculty member who knows those departments agree that they are embarassing.

True, as Lammers points out, there are limits to how what can be done with dysfunctional or nonperforming departments. Yes there will always be problems. But to say it is not a problem is not a good answer. The non-academic audiance will simply see it as another example of professors having priveleged positions and not being accountable.

In a nutshell, we have to be seen as doing a better job of policing ourselves or someone might get the idea they can do a better job than us. That would be a real disaster.

We already have tenure review, we can strengthen that process

lammers said...

Thomas Paine wrote:
"We already have tenure review, we can strengthen that process"

There is also merit review every couple of years. A committee of professors independently evaluate each colleague in the department, arriving at a composite merit ranking, which determines pay raises in part.

There is the process of justifying the 3 SCH of release time for scholarely growth every couple of years. If a professor cannot show the dean evidence of appropriate scholarly activity, he or she ends up teaching more.

Department chairs have a great deal of latitude in teaching assignments, committee assignments, etc. Those who do right things can be rewarded, those who don't can be tuned up.

This is why I say "accountability" is a red herring. There is PLENTY of accountability for professors. Those who exert themselves can be rewarded, those who cut corners can be tuned up.

If it *seems* as though there is "no accountability," it is probably because of the privacy strictures regarding personnel issues dictated by state and federal law. If a person is cautioned or reprimanded or upbraided by his or her superiors, you're just not going to read about it in the newspaper unless a law's been broken. Last I heard, being a boring lecturer or only publishing one paper in four years was not a crime.

And FWIW, I have no idea what departments are supposed to be so uniformly god-awful. I'm too busy keeping my own dooryard tidy to pay much attention to gossip and innuendo.

Anonymous said...

Thomas Paine replies

hmm maybe merit review is a serious exercise in your department, but in many, including mine, it does not amount to much. Partly because merit pay is so low it is not much of an incentive. Several years ago I had the highest merit score in the department but merit was so low that it meant that I got a whole 7 dollars more per month than the worst erformer in the department. Partly because a lot of departments are reluctant to deny colleagues merit or state that someone is not even a "solid performer" One colleague of mine has very poor teaching evals but gets enough points on scholarship and service that he gets some merit. But there is not enough merit pay to give him an incentive to do something about teaching.

Now if the state put more money into merit, then merit would matter more.

I agree that the three hour load ought to be a powerful inducement to better work. Zmmerman was cracking down on that his last year as dean. But department X, mentioned by the student, is already on a four course load for all tenured faculty and they like it that way. They don't publish because they don't want to. I know this because the chair and other senior people have told me this themselves. The unintended cosequence of the three course load is that the people who are least productive in scholarship do the most teaching.

I would agree that most of the faculty is very good. I am also saying there is room for improvement and we should try and be better. I am not advocating lots of new rules. I am saying we can do better by doing a better job of policing by imprving our current mechanisms

and, FYI, I know about department X because, as senior faculty, I have to do time and penance on committees (and yes I still publish and keep up my teaching)and my committee work brings me into contact with departme x and its members on a regular basis. I don't base my statements on gossip. They are the very antithesis of everything you proclaim.

However, eventually they will all retire and the new faculty will probably be better. So if we wait long enough the problem will be solved. Somehow though, I don't think the public will find that a satisfactory answer

lammers said...

Thomas Paine wrote:
"But department X, mentioned by the student, is already on a four course load for all tenured faculty and they like it that way. They don't publish because they don't want to. I know this because the chair and other senior people have told me this themselves. The unintended cosequence of the three course load is that the people who are least productive in scholarship do the most teaching."

But do they at least teach WELL? Do they inspire students and do a great job of challenging them and teaching them critical thinking, communication skills, etc.? As I mentioned originally, I had a prof like that who was critical to my personal development. Grant-junkies in the dept. no doubt thought him a fluffer-nutter, but as far as I am concerned, he was putting his talents where they did the most good an really contributing to the university's mission.

I don't think it's good for an entire department to take this approach, but I can see the value in *some* faculty emphasizing teaching over research. Yes, conducting research DOES make us better teachers, but it's not the sine qua non for being a superb teacher; there's more than one way to skin a cat. I do not think the university is well served if we all cleave to the same Ideal of what a university professor is. I think there is value in a diversity of approaches and emphases.

Anonymous said...

Thomas Paine replies to Lammers

A very fair question about their teaching and I too have been blessed with a good teacher who did not publish much. But I think we both agree that while some people can be good teachers without publishing much, in general scholarship and quality teaching go together. Some kind of scholarly work ( an artcile or its equivalent) every three years is not a onerous goal for the faculty

As for department X I would say that the chair cares very much about good teaching. Others in that department that I have talked to show little interest in pedagogy. That is not proof that they are bad teachers but I do regard that as a bad sign. One I think used to be a very good teacher but he is now the worst case of teacher burn out I know.

I think the anonymous student had a good point which we have both ignored, how does one look out for junior faculty in a department where the senior faculty don't engage in scholarship.

lammers said...

>>I think the anonymous student had a good point which we have both ignored, how does one look out for junior faculty in a department where the senior faculty don't engage in scholarship.<<

A fair point. If an entire dept. is indeed remiss in that area, it can be very unpleasant for the newbie. I would hope that the more senior people would still give sound advice: "Look, we don't do this, but you're just getting your career started. You've GOT to do research and publish." I know that sounds like "Do as I say, not as I do," but it at least is something. I would certainly hope to God they wouldn't get vindictive about it: "Who does he think he is, trying to make us look bad?"

This is where the policy of extra-departmental mentors can prove a wise one, giving the newbie the benefit of a more objective opinion.

I suppose the answer in such a hypothetical situation is for the dean to step in and give the newbie proper advice if a department won't or can't. Sad if it's necessary, but again, I think there are mechanisms in place as long as everyone is attentive.

Anonymous said...

My department is one of the two mentioned. It is true that the senior faculty haven't published in a long time. But if you check, you'll notice they stopped right about the time they learned that the department had to stay at a 12-hour load, because its courses were so big that they couldn't be enlarged further (other departments got to 9 hour loads by enlarging courses, so as to teach the same number of students in fewer courses). It was so nice to learn that because we were carrying the load so that OTHER departments could have the lighter teaching loads.

We have long been 1st or 2nd in the entire university in terms of SCH/FTE. We are typically about 5th in terms of total upper level credit hours--not per FTE...TOTAL!
But we are also at or just one step up from the bottom in terms of average major student CGPA. This is not true of departments in our discipline nationally--the national average is a little over 3.00, and we're about .5 below that. Put this all together and you'll see we are the academic equivalent of the Statue of Liberty: "give us your tired, poor students, your huddled masses lacking in study skills but yearning to somehow graduate." We welcomed them in the vain hope that somebody would notice and gives us more resources to deal with them. (Please note that our heavey SCH loads are not mainly due to our majors--in only two of our many courses are our majors in the numerical majority.)

And what did we accomplish with the bottom of the student barrel? We've employed the Major Field Test, which uses a subset of the GRE questions in our discipline to assess department achievement. Our students averaged a 65th percentile rank in the various disciplinary subareas as well as overall, compared with 121 other departments nationwide. In one area, Research Methods and Statistics, they are consistently at the 85th percentile. The two courses involved are taught by two faculty who haven't published in awhile. Isn't that interesting! Two faculty who don't publish research do an exceptionally good job of teaching students how to do research. Now you know why I think the idea that it takes active research to be a good teacher, or that there is any consistent connection at all between teaching and research, is an academic Big Lie. Of course, anyone who has had a good high school teacher knows this--most don't publish research, but most could teach rings around university faculty.

We have also produced our fair share of Ph.D.s. Although we only graduate 20-30 majors per year, almost 1 per year goes on to get a doctorate. Can you match that ratio? We're also told by our grads that when they enter doctoral programs, they are typically far ahead of their cohort in RESEARCH skills.

Now, we are also the department that has been hiring a lot. We've made it clear that we wanted people who were more active researchers, SO LONG AS their research would involve students, because we wanted to get a more active research experience for our students. Active researchers who are as disengaged from students as too many on this campus are, are not welcome here. I think the years to come will show we've recruited very well.

But I reject the student's notion that those who don't publish enough are deadwood (as does lammers, I believe). Look, 90% of published research may be competently done, but is the kind of routine science (as Kuhn labeled it) that needn't be done. Want proof? I could embarrass a lot of 9-hour load faculty on this campus by asking them how often their work has actually been cited in the work of other scholars. Thank heaven for online journals--at least we aren't cutting down so many trees just so some arcane research can gather dust on a shelf, never read, never cited.

To be sure, some of the people in my department (particularly in the past) weren't much as teachers OR researchers. But let me offer another view of deadwood not centered on research. Deadwood is a 9-hour instructor, who needs (I'm told)to produce a mere single significant (i.e., refereed) publication every three years to keep the light load and barely gets it, who gives high grades so as to keep those pesky students at bay and not have to do much real teaching while getting good student evals nonetheless, who is as disengaged from students as a Madison superstar. Do we have them here? I was on the college tenure committee for quite awhile, and I watched more than a few get tenured.

Woe betide this place if the taxpayers discover what a poor deal they get from UW Oshkosh. Nobody has ever demonstrated that Oshkosh scholarly productivity is any better than at the rest of the campuses with their 12-hour loads, or that the educational quality is better in the necessarily bigger classes. Our students have spoken. The NSSE data, which everybody from the chancellor on down is struggling to spin, show, in Jim Simmon's words "relatively low academic expectations, a largely disengaged faculty, limited learning campus opportunities, and substantial student dissatisfaction." Jim was speaking of the system as a whole, but I hear we are one of the worst campuses.

In this regard, I found the student who commented had missed the point. I'd say to him or her, don't worry about publication standards here; worry that there are no effective teaching standards here. I've known people to be denied tenure for lack of sufficient publication, but NEVER for poor teaching performance.

Finally, to Thomas Paine: we are almost certainly the Department X you mention. You claim to have a lot of contact with us, but if that's so, I'm amazed that you seem not to know what we've accomplished. If you'd only let me know your discipline, I'll be happy to round up all of the many students in our classes with borderline CGPAs and put 'em in your classes. I'm tired of carrying the load for other departments. I'm tired of holding up the torch by the harbor. YOU figure out how they'll get the creits to graduate. Who knows? You may find you need to carry a 12-hour load to do it.

lammers said...

Dr. Anonymous wrote:

>>My department is one of the two mentioned. It is true that the senior faculty haven't published in a long time ... But I reject the student's notion that those who don't publish enough are deadwood (as does lammers, I believe).<<

That is correct. I specifically asked if the departments mentioned at least did a bang-up job of teaching and it sounds as though you do. I have always believed there is more than one way to be judged an excellent professor, that we all have different contributions to make.

The situation you describe is so very different from my own experience in my department, that I really don't know what to say. So I guess I'll just continue keeping my dooryard tidy and not fret over things I can't do much about.

Anonymous said...

Thomas Paine says

Well Winneblogo I think you have the answer to your first post.

Perceptive student critics and bitter, cynical old profs like me think the system needs improving and we should be better about policing ourselves. Despite the fact that We have many outstanding faculty yet there are obvious problems and that is reflected in the NSSE scores. Dr. Anon says that people with bad teaching evals still get tenured. So I assume he agrees with me on at least this point there needs to be better policing.

Other profs feel we are doing just fine, we don't have any major problems, the system works.

Still others, not just the chair of department X, feel that what this university needs is more emphasis on teaching and not research.

As for the chair of dept. X, yes I have heard you point those things out before. I have also heard the responses for your critics. We could go back and forth for several more posts with me channeling Dean Z, but we are both too old for that and neither would convince the other.

So lets end with a point where we do agree. NSSE scores are bad and the university needs to improve them

lammers said...

Thomas Paine wrote: "So lets end with a point where we do agree. NSSE scores are bad and the university needs to improve them."

But is this something that is entirely in our hands? I see it as more of a "lead-a-horse-to-water-but-can't make-him-drink" scenario. The survey gauges *student* engagement, not faculty engagement.

Your Dr. Phil relationship-counselor types tell you that you are responsible for your own happiness, that you cannot expect others to make you happy; that you cannot change others, that you can only change how you respond to others; etc. These sorts of things are equally applicable to teaching.

We can only do so much. We can be clever and innovative and up-to-the-minute and technology-savvy six ways from Sunday, absolutely immersed in pedagogy, with assessment tools up one side and down the other, but if the students aren't commited to it, it just isn't going to work. If they see education as something to do in their spare time, as a necessary evil, as an impediment to their enjoyment of life, there is NOTHING you or I or anyone can do about it. If the only reason they want a degree is because they envision it as some sort of Wonka-esque Golden Ticket, instead of as merely a calling card, it's not really in our hands.

I am always offended by education discussions that dump the entire problem into educators' laps. Frankly, students should be insulted, too. This view assumes that students are mere passive vessels, and if we only poured the knowledge in more carefully, not so much would get slopped on the floor and lost. Baloney.

I tell students that I do not have a magic wand I can wave to make them understand this stuff. That THEY have to work at it to make it part of themselves. Some seem genuinely surprised at that; I get the impression they have not been held responsible for their own learning before, that it was always "teacher's fault" if they did poorly.

Yes, there are incompetent professors and academic staff here. I have seen colleagues do things in the classroom that made me want to leap up and apologize to the students and flog the instructor. But that does not absolve each student for the ultimate responsibility for his or her education. Someone truly committed to a good education will get one *despite* poor professors.

Anonymous said...

Thomas Paine replies

I agree that it is wrong to blame poor NSSE scores on the educators and only the educators.

Some issues do reflect on the professors. Some NSSE results indicate that students are not being asked to do much writing, an issue I have heard Jim Simmons raise.

Other parts of NSSE say more about the students than the professors. Your bringing the horse to water analogy is very apt here.

I think changing the culture of expectations on campus may help our scores in the long run but that is rather difficult to achieve and requires input from faculty, students, and admin.

lammers said...

Thomas Paine wrote:

>>Some issues do reflect on the professors. Some NSSE results indicate that students are not being asked to do much writing, an issue I have heard Jim Simmons raise.<<

Good point. It is something I stress in each and every course I teach. However, as classes have gotten larger, I have had to trim back on the writing assignments.

>>I think changing the culture of expectations on campus may help our scores in the long run but that is rather difficult to achieve and requires input from faculty, students, and admin.<<

That's a fair point. I find that most of our students can work up to expectations IF the expectations are made clear, and they are given the tools with which to do so. In fact, this may be darn near the *only* thing we in the classroom can do to bring up those scores, all else being equal.

Anonymous said...

Well, if students at the AT don't feel that they represent the university then we really have aproblem with student engagement

lammers said...

>>Well, if students at the AT don't feel that they represent the university then we really have aproblem with student engagement<<

An excellent point from the April Fools A-T thread, appropriate here as well as in the thread about UW System holding students accountable for off-campus acts.

If an intelligent hard-working student like S.B., editing the official student newsspaper, honestly feels she is not a representative of the university, this truly is a major insight into the lack of engagement we see among our students. If someone can be responsible for a major public expression of the institution and NOT feel some ownership, some stake in the institution, that is indeed VERY significant! It certainly suggests all the best efforts of the faculty and administration are DOOMED from the get-go.

Hey, Moderator!! Do you maybe want to start a NEW thread combining these three ideas?? "Are students representatives of the university?"