Friday, September 28, 2007

Chancellor to hold public session on VSA

The plot thickens! For those of us who want to find out more about how we will soon be tested to death, the Chancellor awaits. . . .

A web site designed to help facilitate early adoption of the Voluntary System of Accountability (VSA) College Portrait is now available

Chancellor Richard Wells is meeting with governance and administrative groups who have been asked to share these materials on VSA with their constituents. He will host an open forum on the VSA College Portrait on Monday, October 15 from 3:30-4:45 PM in Reeve Memorial Union room 227C.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Chancellor Well's New Acronym: VSA

Chancellor Well's has been presenting his latest project around campus the past few weeks. It is the Voluntary System of Accountability (VSA).

From what people have told me, it is first and foremost an attempt to ward off the intrusion of the federal government into university standard setting. Chancellor Wells has been deeply involved in the production of the project and wants us to be one of the pilot schools, posting our data within a few years.

In order to do this, the VSA will provide information about the universities involved on a website. There will be the NSSE data (National Study of Student Engagement), on which we have done quite badly. Most importantly, however, they want to have students take some sort of standardized test as an exit exam. They will then report that number on the site as well.

Choosing to highlight scores from some standardized test as an important measure of learning at our institution seems to be problematic. How in the world do you test what a student has learned in college? Does it strip it down to a set of "skills" that are similar to the ACTs? Are there subject tests based on content knowledge?

Chancellor Wells wants us to jump on board now. Are people who heard his pitch convinced? Will this really stave off federal intervention? Can this actually measure the quality of our institution?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Video games in dorms reduce grades

I came across this interesting paper today while I should have been working. Two economists attempt to study student study habits and grades. They found, not surprisingly, that student effort directly increases grades. They show that studying an extra 1 hour a day corresponds to a grade increase equivalent to 5 point increase in ACT scores.

Even more strikingly, the found that having a roommate with a video game lowers grades by the equivalent of a 4 point decrease in ACT scores.

Their argument is fairly simple. Student effort matters, and students are not trapped by the scores on their standardized tests.

While neither of these results is at all surprising, they do raise some interesting policy implications. How can we encourage students to tune out of pop culture and into their classwork? Should our NBC freshmen complex ban video games in rooms?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

New Right-Wing Attacks on Academia

Driving in to school this morning, I heard Joy Cardin chatting with John Leo about his new website, I didn't hear much of the show, but it sounded like the standard right-wing rant.

However, John Leo was commenting on the corrosiveness of the politics of victimization, as practiced through identity politics. It struck me that it is exactly the same game that Leo and the right is playing. He is trying to create the mistreated "white male" who is deserving of the same kind of protection. If he really wanted to get above identity politics, wouldn't he spend less time ranting about how he is horribly traumatized by college campuses?

It might be new if he proposed something beside the tired rant of political correctness and liberals on campus. We already have Steve Nass, who is taking out his "victimhood" on the entire UW system. John Leo and his new website are just an afterthought.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Beer in Reeve

The Advance-Titan reported this week that the Underground in Reeve Union is now serving beer.

I know that this was a controversial idea last year, opposed by many groups who felt that there were already too many opportunities for drinking on campus. The article reports that not many students have taken advantage of it up to this point.

Now that it has been done, will it facilitate a more sane drinking climate on campus? Are you going to be taking your seniors out for a beer at the Union?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Goals of a 'Humane Education'

The Boston Globe ran a piece this weekend by a Yale law professor that argues that Universities have lost their way because they have lost sight of the big picture--the question of the meaning of life.

I'll quote my favorite part. Here he is defining what he calls the 'shared conception of a humane education:'

The first is that there is more than one good answer to the question of what living is for. A second is that the number of such answers is limited, making it possible to study them in an organized way. A third is that the answers are irreconcilably different, necessitating a choice among them. A fourth is that the best way to explore these answers is to study the great works of philosophy, literature, and art in which they are presented with lasting beauty and strength. And a fifth is that their study should introduce students to the great conversation in which these works are engaged - Augustine warily admiring Plato, Hobbes reworking Aristotle, Paine condemning Burke, Eliot recalling Dante, recalling Virgil, recalling Homer - and help students find their own authentic voice as participants in the conversation.

This is again a very traditionalist set of examples, but the conversation to which he is referring extends to a much broader list of thinkers.

I think that the discussion about a liberal education is one of the most important that we can have as a campus community. Can it become the vehicle for recovering the quality and reputation of our own institution?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Maybe there ARE more liberals in academia

This is a fun study, purporting to show that liberal brains are more flexible than conservative ones. They tolerate ambiguity and conflict better than conservative brains. It also notes that conservatives tend to block information that is contradictory to what they already believe.

Perhaps this is why liberals congregate in academia--more acceptance of ambiguity and increased willingness to think outside the box. One might argue that this is what academia is all about. Our jobs are by definition to be creaters of new knowledge. If you are not going to challenge the status quo, why go into a field where your success is defined by coming up with something new?

Thus, if a conservative is not comfortable with this ambiguities that academia demands, there are plenty of careers that offer the kind of intellectual stability that would be better.

Just something to think about. . . .

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Our Misplaced Priorities

I know I shouldn't blog two times in the same day, but I am incensed by the football team. They have decided to miss 2 days this week for a trip to Alabama.

WTF!?? The coaches and provost have decided that they don't need to be around during the first classes of the semester? They don't need to know the requirements of their classes or whether the class will be a good fit for them??

Aren't we a division III school? Aren't athletics supposed to be a nice addition to the academic program of our students? Instead, teams take off whenever they want, have the provost force us to accommodate them, and generally treat classwork as if it is secondary to their games.

This is not the first time--I have had teams announce they are leaving early for spring break in the past(missing exams or other assignments)--why are our priorities so screwed up?? None of these students are likely to make it as professional athletes, but they will have to be able to read and write effectively. Yet, the administration put the sports first. How does this reflect on the quality of our degrees and our institution?

Opening Day

Welcome back everyone! We had our grand opening day convocation yesterday morning.

My impressions:

It looks like a hopeful year financially. Little doom and gloom, though there is still a chance Steve Nass will get his way in Madison.

It looks like a year of acronyms. LEAP was the main topic of the day. The chancellor and provost made the Liberal Education reform the center of their agenda, which may result in general education reform. I think that this could really be a boon for the university. The chancellor also mentioned some other acronym that has to do with a new sort of on-line college rating system that he will be proposing this fall.

Petra Roter and Art Rathjen decided to go with the comedy routines. Although they were amusing, I was left with the feeling that they didn't want to talk about real issues. Was Art hiding his own feeling that little money was raised behind his Wisconsin jokes? Someone suggested that Petra's own text message/abreviation schtick was both old (isn't this the 3rd time she has done this) and displayed her own belief that she knows the students better than the rest of us because she is hip to the code.

John Koker's comedy routine was more sedate and to the point, but he pushed the liberal education reform agenda too. He also tossed in his desire to do something about class size. We may be talking more about that as the year progresses.

The university continues to grow. Now we have over 12,500 FTE and we are getting a chance to rebuild some of our faculty numbers.

Just a few general comments this morning--if you have any of your own, I look forward to seeing them!