Monday, April 30, 2007

Do we fail minority students?

The Northwestern this morning ran this article on the front page, about the report about failure rates among minorities in gateway courses. The A-T ran a story on it a few weeks ago.

The data presented to the board of regents showed a very rate of D,F or W among minorities that was significantly higher than other segments of our student population.

First, does anyone know what the actual data looks like? It is hard to judge this information without more information. Does anyone know if this is similar to other institutions?

This data and its reporting raise a lot of questions for us. Is there bias in the way we teach our gateway courses? Why are the very few minorities on campus doing poorly in classes?

There are many other questions that need to be asked and I hope we can begin thinking about the implication of this data?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Right to Unionize Chopped from Budget

Anonymous e-mailer lake flambe let me know that the legislative leaders have decided to remove the right for us to unionize from the state budget.

Here is the message, as lf commented about the loss and the more general failure of union politics:

Egad let us mourn the demise of collective bargaining out of the budget.

It really tees me off that this basic human right can't be granted the faculty and staff.
sheesh! However it is very strange how this effort is/was not marketed. You can't dig up any people to come forward and claim some union did something for them. Despite unions do lots of things for their members all the time.

Unions have very noticeable defects IMHO like that perennial fraud and embezzlement problem they have, their cult like top down structure, and lack of democratic principles amply supported by the crazy convention system most of them have, no term limits to office, highly paid career staffer yes-persons, and last but not least high dues and constantly hitting the membership up for more money and endless activities.

Unfortunately unions are unwilling to change any of these problems. Thus overcoming the deservedly bad impression from those problems and the fact that society is so conservative these days would take a massive PR campaign on every front. Actually I personally do think collective bargaining and unions have overall benefits to the membership despite the union culture's extreme resistance to improvement. (This was not a position the unions were willing to tolerate, I found out by personal experience. You're either in the cult or you're not. They didn't accept "yeah I like unions but X,Y,Z should be changed".I think that rigidity is _the_ major reason why unions are declining.)

And I would love to see the prolific labor history industry get shelved permanently. The eternal obsession that unions have with the past has IMHO a toxic effect, makes them even more resistant to change, and is just plain depressing. I for one am totally fed up with stories of the
30's and pictures of long-deceased union leaders. No more history profs setting union policy! The policy has to be shaped by the people the union is trying to organize, meaning unions have to find out what they want and how to communicate with them
about it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Where should I park?

The discussion list has been crackling with a new, non academic discussion about parking here on campus. Last week, a survey was sent out, asking whether faculty and staff would be willing to pay $350 for a reserved parking spot. Most interestingly, the conversation has been led by non-faculty members. It is nice to see some other employees getting involved in this question.

Since then, the discussion has blossomed from a few nay-sayers who asked everyone to say they were not interested to a much broader discussion of the real price of parking.

Mike Lizotte has presented a quite convincing case that parking fees here on campus do not nearly represent the real cost to the university. He estimates that the true cost of parking on campus could be as high as $1500 per space per year. The maximum fee is $165.

Others have pointed out that as with just about everything else, the only reason we are talking about fee increases is that the state has so drastically cut our aid. They suggest that free parking should be part of providing a decent working environment for employees.

I haven't posted because I am ambivalent about the parking issue. I know that I should use my bicycle and public transportation more than I do. However, convenience outweighs my conscience. If the fees were higher, I suppose I might reconsider.

Friday, April 20, 2007

UWO says no more bribes from EFP

I could have posted this a couple of days ago, but UWO administrators announced that we will no longer take bribes from Educational Finance Partners.

They insist that they did nothing wrong, but I am waiting for the evidence that the EFP loans were as good as loans from other lenders. We have heard that EFP got lots of special treatment, including being the only lender mentioned in a few mailings.

Gordon Hintz, among others, has called for hearings, so we may be hearing more about this in the future.

A few people have tried to defend this action by claiming that state budget cuts drove the financial aid office to it. I don't buy this excuse at all. The university should act in the best interests of higher education and our students, regardless of financial hardships. The burden of proof has to be on us to demonstrate that the way we handle cuts is the least harmful way possible.

Taking funds from a private lender to increase their profits serves only the company and a few workers in the financial aid office. It gave the rest of us a real black eye.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

UWO caught taking 'bribes' from student loan companies

The Oshkosh Northwestern is reporting today that the administration cut a deal with Education Finance Partners. They paid the university over $10,000 to be put on the list of preferred loan providers.

This scandal has been sweeping the country, as it turns out many universities and loan administrators have been taking payments to put companies on the loan list. Several people have been indicted in New York for taking these payments, which smell like bribes. Links here and here.

The article notes that our institution used this payment to help with administration costs, but it stinks to me. Letting companies buy their way on to the list makes it look as though we are not interested in finding the best deals for students. Instead, the administration is looking to take care of its own needs.

What a sleazy process! It pains me to hear that we have been ill-serving our students like this!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Female Profs don't feel integrated

Speaking of campus culture, does UWO drive away female faculty members? A study of Cornell University showed lower levels of satisfaction for female faculty members and a higher likelihood of leaving the profession at every point in their career. The significant variable was integration. Women were much less likely to feel satisfied about their integration into their departments and the institution in general.

I don't know what our retention rates are like, but I know of many women who have left the university over the last few years. How about it, do we create an environment conducive to helping faculty engage with our institution?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Another attempt to defend the A-T

I haven't been posting things from the discussion list, but I was driven to post this. A person from the journalism department posted a letter this morning asking why there wasn't more outrage on campus when a non-student was arrested, cited, and fined for marijuana possession. I am not quite sure I get the parallel. I guess we were supposed to be upset that the university police did their job because the victim was black. Apparently, he sees this as differential applications of justice.

I don't see this at all and most of the responses on the list pointed this out. Even if this were an outrage (which it is clearly not), it doesn't lessen the hostile attitude of the A-T's April Fools Issue.

Here is the letter:

Last week many colleagues used this forum to register their opinions about the April Fool’s issue of the Advance-Titan. I am writing to bring to your attention an item that appeared in a different issue of the A-T, an article that appears to have gone largely unnoticed even though it seems to me to say a lot about campus climate.

In its March 29 issue, the A-T reported the following (based on a police report):

March 14, 2007. (1:15 a.m.)--During a routine building check, an officer detected the odor of burning candles and incense coming from a guest room in the North Gruenhagen Conference Center, in violation of university fire regulations. The female guest was contacted and identified herself as a Philadelphia resident who was performing in the “Voices of Africa Choral and Percussion Ensemble.” She consented to a search of the room where candles and incense were found. The officer noticed her trying to conceal something in a suitcase. The officer seized a cosmetic case containing a marijuana joint and roaches weighing 2.2 grams. The female admitted it was her marijuana but denied smoking it in the room. Nonstudent Regina Contave (sic), 46, was cited for possession of marijuana.

As you may know, Ms. Cantave (the proper spelling of her name) belongs to a group that was a guest on this campus in January 2005 for the annual Martin Luther King Jr. dinner. She performs under the name of Akusua Nyo Agyiriwah, and she was back in the area last month because Voices of Africa was performing for Neenah school students as part of the group’s mission to foster multicultural awareness and understanding.

Without question the officer was doing his or her duty to protect the lives and property of the university community. Asking Ms. Cantave to extinguish any candles or incense was completely appropriate. But the officer should have stopped there. Searching the room was an unnecessary intrusion.

I encourage you to read the police report carefully and apply your powers of critical analysis. How credible is it that a person with illegal substances in her possession “consented” to a search of her room? If that person had consented to a search, why would she then try “to conceal something in a suitcase”? For those of you who have lived in urban areas, how likely is it that you would allow a police officer into your bedroom in the middle of the night absent subterfuge or threat?

I’m sure the rejoinder from the UP would be that the officer had an obligation to investigate a crime. But officers have great discretion in how they choose to enforce the law (if they didn’t we would all have speeding or jaywalking tickets for what we do on Algoma Boulevard). The fact is they exercise their discretion according to the parameters that are established by those in their chain of command.

What message do you think that Ms. Cantave took away from her encounter with the UP? That UW Oshkosh values an environment that is “inclusive” and “tolerant”? Let’s not forget that her offense was not a crime, in a narrow legal sense. Possession is a civil offense and in the scheme of things not a lot more serious than driving a few miles an hour over the speed limit. But it cost her $375 and spoke volumes about how welcome people like her are on our campus.

I invite you to reflect on the difference in our reaction to this incident and to the April Fool’s edition of the A-T.

As part of that reflection, I urge you to consider the difference in agency, on the one hand a uniformed (and armed) employee of this institution who is paid to carry out its mission and support its values and on the other hand students, who pay us to be formed and instructed in the value of knowledge and inquiry.

We appear to be far more tolerant of the actions of people invested with formal authority than the ones who are here for an education.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Storm on the Horizon: General Education Reform

Word about town is that we are about to see the beginning of a sustained effort to fix the general education component here at UWO. Apparently, the accreditors were upset by the lack of any coherence to our general education requirements. They told the administration that we need to deal with this fairly quickly.

The chancellor wants to start with a general discussion about the goals of a liberal education and then dive into the specifics. I imagine that we will be able to find agreement on a basic definition about what we think is important for college students to learn. I think most of us can also agree that the gen ed requirements are a mess.

However, can you imagine the hornet's nest that will be stirred up when we have to talk about what this means in terms of courses? The last time that this was attempted, apparently just before the last accreditation visit, we got TBIS and PBIS courses. Going any further was stymied.

What will happen this time around? Do the Chancellor and the Provost have the willpower to battle all the constituencies and transform the university?

My feeling is that this can only be good for us--I have long been a proponent of a liberal education, that stresses critical thinking and analysis ahead of practical job skills. It will, however, be an ugly fight. Can the faculty put their own interests (and their departments' interests) aside and think about the good of the university and education? We shall soon see!

Here is what I have found on the web: The website mentioned in the alumni magazine that may serve as a starting point for the change

Friday, April 06, 2007

The A-T issue: Joke or Symptom of bigger problems?

The April Fool's Issue of the AT continues to generate intense discussion on campus. As you can see from the previous post, over 30 comments have been posted here. On the university discussion list, there have been 60 emails. In my more ambitious days of blogging, I would have posted all of those.

In general, there have been several lines of debate (represented here as well):

1: Did the April Fools issue have any significance?
1: can faculty understand the humor of the younger generation?
2: is criticism of the AT akin to censorship?
3: is this a mistake/misunderstanding or a sign of broader institutional racism/sexism/agism at UWO?

The various defenses of the A-T seem to be quite hollow, from the lack of awareness of the impact of such writing to the argument that negative stereotyping has no real effect.

In various discussions around campus, it has become clear that in addition to our reputation as Sloshkosh, UWO is already known as a place unwelcoming to people who are different.

The AT controversy seems to cement that reputation. The A-T staff's protestations that they never meant to hurt anyone suggest that the hostility is unconscious and unexplored.

This should be an eye opening moment for our campus. What can we do to make something good come of it??

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Did the A-T go beyond the bounds?

A student posted this letter to the university discussion list about the A-T April fools issue. I have not really looked at it myself, but the headlines on the website suggest that several of the "stories" might be ugly, if not down right offensive. Here is the letter:

As a

nontraditional student on campus, I am voicing my concern regarding the annual Advance Titan's April Fool's edition ( that came out yesterday. In my opinion, this yearly tradition serves no purpose other than to degrade the image of our campus and offend numerous parts of the student body, as well as faculty, staff and administration. I personally feel that what may be intended to be sarcasm, humor or an “April Fool” has gone too far and should no longer be condoned on this campus.

I am outraged by the sentiments expressed in the AT. The statements go well beyond those of an “April Fool” and I am deeply concerned about how no action about this impacts our faculty/staff of color, our students of color, our

LGBTQ students, our non traditional students, and allies. When so many are asking 'why am I here?' and 'Is it worth it?'...this may be the last straw for many.

Our campus is already a 'difficult' environment to work and study in. The tone of the

AT's articles only adds tension to our campus community, if not outright saying who belongs here and who does not. The tension increases as the minutes of silence and no response tick by. No action is action!

I feel that the longer we are silent about this, the further we

systemically institutionalize racism, homophobia, ageism, and sexism. I hope you will stand behind me in supporting ALL members of our campus and community and what we stand for as members of the University Wisconsin Oshkosh campus and community!

The time to be heard is now!


Monday, April 02, 2007

Rieckman is now pro-UWO?

Although this topic has already gotten plenty of play in the blogosphere (Tony, Babblemur and Miles), I wanted to add my two-cents.

After all, it is striking to see Rieckman endorse a "Jeffrey Dahmer" to be on the city council. (I really do hold a grudge!!) After Rieckman's ready use of the university as a whipping boy in his columns, to see him write that it might not be so bad to have three people associated with UWO on the council is quite a change of heart.

For Stew, Palmeri is a great addition to the council. As someone devoted to open records, the Northwestern will surely benefit if Tony insists on opening up the cozy world of city government. Perhaps he also recognizes that continually attacking a significant percentage of his subscribers is not the best way to build his newspaper.

I, for one, don't really understand the town and gown split here. On the other hand, I don't understand the north/west split either . . .