Friday, December 05, 2008

Prisons defeat Higher Ed

The media has been filled with reports (see the Journal Sentinel, for example) about the decreasing affordability of a university education.  I have been meaning to post a few observations about this, but instead, I came upon this blog entry by Juan Cole.

He points out that legislatures across the country have decided that imprisonment is more important than education.  As he notes, prison populations have skyrocketed since 1980.  By and large, the money to pay for this has come from support for universities.  Now, Cole argues that the solution is to decriminalize marijuana and use the tax revenue for education.  This, of course, is not very likely.  

However, his post reminds us of the choices we have made as a society.  Education has lost and continues to lose to punishment.

What politician will stand up and say that non-violent offenders should spend less time in jail so students can get a college degree?  Being "soft on crime" is a death sentence for a politician in this age of nasty, negative campaigning. . .

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Are students really nuts?

A new study claims that 1 in 5 young American adults has a personality disorder that disrupts their lives and 1/3 abuse alcohol and drugs.  

The study also goes on to claim that only 25% of those seek treatment.

I suppose this means the researchers think that an even larger percentage have disorders that don't yet affect their daily lives.

If our students are a disfunctional as the researchers claim, where does this leave us?  Should we all be replaced by guidance councillors?  

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Internet rathole for research

I feel bad for not posting, but the semester is dragging me down man . . .

Here is an interesting article about the way that academics follow links as they use the internet for research.  One study argues that the internet has led to a narrowing of citation, presumably because scholars only cite papers they find on-line.  Others dispute those claims.

The ease of internet searching certainly is enticing, making it easy to forget the vast world of printed information out there.  For students, this certainly is true, as it is hard to get them into the library to experience the vast knowledge accumulated on the shelves.  Too often it seems for them that if they can't google it, it doesn't exist. . . .

Friday, November 14, 2008

Budget hole gets deeper. . .

Chancellor Wells sent out a carefully worded, yet ominous memo yesterday. The planning is already underway for serious cuts here on campus. He seems to be hinting that new searches are going to be put off while the student body will continue to grow. He also may be preparing us for a claim that he can not reduce administrative costs. The brief discussion about the new Director of Sustainability on the COLS list suggests this is the case.

Unfortunately, this is probably what we all expected. We are expected to deal with more students. I wonder when our whopping raise will be postponed.  How big will the tuition increase be?   

From the note:

As many of you know, while the Higher Learning Commission evaluation team lauded UW Oshkosh, they raised a serious concern regarding our all-too-thin administrative support — something unheard of in such reports. We have also acknowledged our need to appoint more tenure-track faculty and we realize our classified staff has been hit hard by earlier budget cuts. Much needed Growth Agenda funding was provided this year to help offset millions of dollars of earlier state funding cuts and to serve the recent and projected increase of more than 1,400 students. While we may have to delay some of the Growth Agenda searches, we will do our best to protect our base funding. It is obvious that we will have to continue to make tough budgetary planning decisions during six to nine months of budget planning uncertainty.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


Obama won a decisive victory yesterday and riding on his coattails came the Wisconsin Assembly!

This change in political leadership may have profound changes for us here at UWO.

  1. With democratic majorities in both houses here in Wisconsin, faculty will soon be deciding if we want to unionize.
  2. When it is time for the state budget discussions, UW-hater Steve Nass (though he did win re-election)will not have the kind of control that he used to.   When it comes to the hard choices of how to allocate state dollars, perhaps education will be higher on the list than more prisons.
  3. Obama has promised more support for students going to college.  How he can accomplish this in the midst of all the other budget issues he will face is unclear.  However, we might have a new discussion about how this can be accomplished.
  4. The push for "accountability" for higher education will clearly move in different directions.  I don't think we will be able to avoid the standardized-testing craze that dominates the political sphere.  We should be able to slow down and have a rational discussion as to how this can be done.  The threat that "they will do it to us if we don't hurry up and do it to ourselves" should recede.

As even David Brooks has pointed out, the Republicans have been running on an anti-intellectual platform for years.  With a new Democratic administration in Washington, I hope for a new tone, less derisive towards academia and science in general!

P.S.  Great Job WRST election night coverage!  I spent much of the night with the sound of the TV off and the radio on.  The students did an excellent job bringing our own experts to the airwaves!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Study show Profs can't change student's poliical views

The New York Times reported today that two new studies show that student's political views are not changed by their professors.

This is an argument that I and many others have made throughout the last several years of this right-wing attack on the academy.  I like seeing a few studies to back it up.  Whether or not the statistics are any good is, of course, a different question.

All this worry about professors and proselytising seems to be a lot of noise.  I guess I should wear my political button tomorrow!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Student Petition Signature Drive

I have been meaning to post about this for awhile, but I have been obsession about the Presidential election.  

Our own student association has put together a petition demanding that politicians put more resources toward higher education.  It is a very nice idea, but I am not sure what they want to accomplish with the vague statements laid out here.

I've signed it, but I don't think it will make a bit of difference.  Just like our LERT principles, when you make something this vague, it is hard to find anyone who disagrees.  It also makes it difficult to see a course of action ahead. . . . .

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Were in Big Budget Trouble!!

Doyle announced yesterday that he expects there to be a 3 billion dollar hole in the budget for the next biennium. 

Chancellor Wells informs us that he has been asked to reformulate the budget with a 10% reduction.  He mentions that there is also a good possibility that our budget will be reduced for the final year of this budget cycle.

Even though we know well that universities play an especially valuable role for the state when the economy slows and citizens are looking for retraining, I don't think the legislators are going to give us much protection.

What do you think we will lose this time around?  

1. Cancelling of current searches?

2. Losing our miniscule raises?

3. Increasing class size?

4. Cancel the new building?  The My Two Cents blog at WOSH radio proposes that (he also posted nasty comments about the "rich, spoiled" students who attended the John Kerry rally yesterday).

Any other speculations?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Whoops! No more ban in Illinois!

Just when I thought I found an interesting story about academic freedom, I find out that it was already old news.

Illinois took it back last week.

The Chronicle also reports that several other state institutions have reversed themselves in trying to ban campaign advertisements.  The University of Missouri at St. Louis and Texas-Austin both reversed themselves this week on the same question, involving both classrooms and students.

Maybe it is because Obama is surging in the polls -- it no longer looks less like political advocacy and more like preparation for the next presidency. . . .

Monday, October 13, 2008

Ban those Bumper Stickers!!

Although I have plenty of more important things to do, I just came across the story about the Ethics office of the University of Illinois system that tells all employees that they are not allowed to display political buttons, bumper stickers, or anything else.

You can read Stanley Fish's take on it from the NYTimes.  He argues that legally, the state can ban whatever it wants from the classroom, as long as they claim it is "political."

It is a complicated issue, but the state of Illinois absolutism (as well as Fish's) seem to be absurd.  We all should try to make sure the core knowledge of our discipline is passed along, but analysis and advocacy are part of making students think about that knowledge.   

We know that our system does not allow partisan political activity from state employees, but now Illinois is trying to ban even the expression of an opinion from campus?!

Will we soon see such draconian suppressions in our state?  I guess I'll have to get out my scraper . . . 

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Flaws in U.S. News Mathematics

I know that for a school like ours, the U.S. News rankings aren't very relevant (3rd tier regional, if I remember correctly).  However, it is interesting to see a report about how flawed the statistics are that create the rankings.

With statistical profiles like the VSA on the way, it is a good reminder that these numbers are easily gamed and essentially meaningless.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Angry Republican Student Letter in Northwestern

This letter ran in the Northwestern on Tuesday.  The student complains that there are no Republican events on campus.  

I don't know what is going out on the student email lists, but the biggest initiative on campus is the American Democracy Project, which is a non-partisan attempt to register students and get them engaged in the process.   I have seen the posters around campus, so I imagine they are one of the tables in Reeve that the author is complaining about.

Ironically, when I look at this campus I see apathy across the spectrum.  Compared to almost every other campus that I have been on, there is NO student activism.  It would be great for the atmosphere around here if there were really were raucous rallies in support of candidates for president.   To see students join in something with real passion and enthusiasm would make my day!

Instead, we see most of our students sort of shuffle through class with little emotion or engagement--too busy with jobs or sports or parties to pay much attention to the large, important issues we face.

This student should get involved with the Campus Republicans, organize some speakers, and make her voice heard on campus.  If she had the energy to write the paper, why hasn't this turned into activism here??

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Bad Evals = No Job?

The New York Times education section had a long article about teaching evaluations last Sunday.  It starts with the story of an adjunct who did not have her contract renewed because she did not have over 85% good or exellent marked on her student evaluations.

It uses this to launch into an extended discussion about the worthiness of student evaluations.  

The article dwells on the vast differences between student perceptions, especially in classes that challenge students assumptions about their world.  It also includes an upper-class white male student bashing segment, accusing them as a group of ruining a professor's class on "whiteness."

In the end, there are no definitive studies that show that they tell us much of anything.   We have had our own debates over evaluations over the years here, so this made for an interesting read. 

I have never been much of a fan of  student evaluations, because they don't really seem to tell us much.  I occassionally look through the written comments, as those are the only things that hold potential interest for me.  Student evaluations have something to tell us about the shape of a class, but perhaps more about the students than the professors.    

Friday, September 19, 2008

Do Professors Need Technology?

The Advance-Titan ran this mocking editorial today about a professor that could not get youtube working in his classroom.  For Dan Shafer, the fact that there was some sort of technological glitch demonstrates that Professors need to be more tech-savvy in order to properly teach students.

Interestingly enough, the chronicle had an article on a similar topic this week.  In it, Mark Bauerlein argues that internet reading is shallow and less than reading on paper.  Studies suggest that reading on the computer involves much skimming and skipping.   He argues that we need to get technology out of the classroom and insist on the more careful reading that can be done with paper.

Is it obvious that I am sympathetic to the second view?  Technology is something that can help, but in measured doses.  It doesn't improve learning automatically and can very easily hamper what we are trying to do.   Youtube may provide a nice demonstration of something, but hardly seems essential to the educational mission of our university.  

The contemplative nature of learning and education is too often lost in the instant gratification of a google search.  How can we truly reflect on what is important and come to our own understandings if we don't take time to think and understand for our selves?

If anything, a liberal education is about instilling that need for critical thinking and contemplation in our students.  Technology can be a tool, but that is all it is.  It is not the utopian solution to all the problems we face.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Right Wing Internet Site attacks LERT Learning Outcomes

I was googling around this evening and came across this site, called The Torch.  They have an article criticizing the new learning outcomes because it has sustainability listed there.

Apparently, sustainability is part of a secret attempt to repress freedom of speech at UWO.  Who would have thunk it??  Those environmental studies types are taking over and we never even noticed.  Wait until the Torch get wind of the fact the we are now a fair trade university. . . 

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Standardized Testing is Here!

Get ready, campus community, because soon we will be teaching to the test--one more cog in the giant testing industry.

Chancellor Wells announced today that we are beginning to "pilot" the CLA exams for graduating students.  As many feared from the beginning, the VSA looks more and more like a backdoor entrance to standardized exit exams for UWO students.  

I think it is almost a foregone conclusion that within 5 years, we will be hearing incessent reminders from the administration that we need to change our classes to improve the schools CLA scores.   

For information, you can look at the CLA propaganda here.  It seems that the CLA was developed by the RAND institute and will be computer graded.  Lucky us!

Here is a critic of the whole VSA and CLA approach. 

Finally, here is the Memo:

From: Chancellor Wells and Provost Hartman  
To: Faculty and Instructional Academic Staff
As you may recall, UW Oshkosh joined the Voluntary System of Accountability (VSA) last fall, and we have since posted a link on our homepage to the College Portrait, which provides information on UW Oshkosh to prospective students and their families, public policy-makers, legislators, campus faculty and staff, and other key higher education stakeholders. Evidence of student learning outcomes, which is not scheduled to be posted on the VSA College Portrait for three years, is one of the data elements included in the College Portrait. The VSA has approved three instruments (CLA, MAPP and CAAP) to measure student gains in critical thinking, including analytic reasoning, and written communication.
Colleges and universities across the US are piloting various assessments in order to make a decision on which instrument best aligns with their learning outcomes. UW Oshkosh has already administered the MAPP and the CAAP assessments on a limited basis. We have been given an opportunity to join other UW system schools to pilot the CLA in 2008-09 to evaluate the test and to analyze any changes in the results. We will pilot the CLA by administering the test to one hundred freshmen students this fall and to one hundred senior students in the spring semester.  
An important criterion for the selection of an assessment instrument is the alignment of that instrument with learning outcomes. The current version of the CLA aligns with major components of the LERT outcomes. The administration of the CLA at this time will provide us with additional data regarding student learning at this university. These data can be used to inform the process used to determine performance indicators for our learning outcomes. Such a process promotes continuous improvement practices on our campus.
The selection of the CLA as a pilot also allows us to participate in a large scale research project sponsored by a FIPSIE grant. This research focuses on the development of an assessment of learning outcomes such as ours that is both valid and reliable.
E. Alan Hartman 
Interim Provost & Vice Chancellor
Richard H. Wells

Monday, September 08, 2008

Are students getting dumber?

Thomas Benton, a columnist for the Chronicle of Higher Education, suggests they are.  I have students who exhibit all of these characteristics.  What does it mean and who is responsible?  He reviews a series of books that discuss this topic.  His emphasis is on the customer service mentality that seems to dominate universities these days.

If you watched the Republican National Convention, you could also see the anti-intellectualism run rampant there.

Here is his core list of troubling attributes he finds in his college students:

  • Primarily focused on their own emotions — on the primacy of their "feelings" — rather than on analysis supported by evidence.
  • Uncertain what constitutes reliable evidence, thus tending to use the most easily found sources uncritically.
  • Convinced that no opinion is worth more than another: All views are equal.
  • Uncertain about academic honesty and what constitutes plagiarism.
  • Unable to follow or make a sustained argument.
  • Uncertain about spelling and punctuation (and skeptical that such skills matter).
  • Hostile to anything that is not directly relevant to their career goals, which are vaguely understood.
  • Increasingly interested in the social and athletic above the academic, while "needing" to receive very high grades.
  • Not really embarrassed at their lack of knowledge and skills.
  • Certain that any academic failure is the fault of the professor rather than the student.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Opening Day Observations

Welcome back everyone! We are officially back in session, with classes beginning tomorrow.

I thought I would share a few of my observations of today's opening festivities. I was unfortunate enough to attend the 1 hour and 40 minute administrative song and dance show.

Some negative highlights:

I decided to count and noticed that out of the new hires this year, 69 were lecturers and only 22 were assistant professors. UWO seems to be continuing its slide toward over-reliance on non tenure-track teachers.

Art Rathjen, head of the foundation, decided to end his address by undermining all the talk of selling the liberal arts at UWO with an old joke about arts majors working in fast food restaurants.

Petra Roter went on forever, first with her joke shtick (Abba songs this year, rather than internet abreviations), followed by a laundry list of activities that didn't seem to have any connection to the rest of the reports.

Chancellor Wells introduced new and even more ridiculous terminology to the LERT initiative, by talking about our opportunity to review the draft "meta-rubriks" from some national organization before we develop our own rubriks for assessing learning outcomes through the VAPA program to be placed on the upcoming VSA.

Finally, and one that shocked the audience, Wells succeeded in offending everyone who thinks that we need to get beyond casual mysogyny. A group of 5 female staff members presented several gifts to him for his support of the classified staff. His first, off-the-cuff, response, "There must be men who are classified staff--they must be out doing real work. . . "

On the plus side:

The growth agenda is helping UWO replace faculty members and stabilize our finances.

The COLS meeting was efficient and got us out of there in a hurry while still allowing us to briefly meet new hires. (Though John never told us what the 3rd perfect number was)

The incoming class has higher grades, test scores, and is more diverse.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

UWO Continues to Grow. Is This a Good Thing?

UWO issued a report yesterday about the continuing student growth of UWO.   It made the Northwestern this morning and more details can be found in the university's press release.

The report emphasizes that we have grown by almost 1000 students since 2000.   They also note that the incoming class is slightly stronger academically than it was last year.

My first reaction in these reports is the missing information about increasing the number of faculty to support this growth.  There were multiple positions as part of the growth agenda, but the basic number of teachers remains stagnant.  Many tenure-track lines are still filled with staff people, undermining the basic principles of quality college education.

It is good PR to emphasize the growing number of students.  The quality of their experience remains in doubt as classes overflow and we do not talk seriously about reducing our faculty to student ratio.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Momentum for open-source textbooks building?

The LA Times is running a story about an open-source economics textbook, where the author turned down $100,000 to sell it to a publisher.

Is the profit motive the key reason academics write textbooks?  That seems to be the key question--will people do it if they don't get paid?

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Illegally Download your textbooks?

I came upon this technology news link this afternoon that pointed me to a new website that allows you to download textbooks using bittorrent.   I also saw an article in the New York Times about this several weeks ago.

Clearly this is a violation of copyright law, but it is interesting in several ways:

1. Textbooks are becoming increasingly available electronically.

2. Once books become digital, they will be traded legally or illegally like music.

 There may be even more incentive to illegally download your textbook, since it is quite a bit more expensive than an album.  The slogan of Textbook Torrents is "Because you can't torrent beer."   Will this reshape the textbook market like it has the music market?

If textbooks more toward an open-source model, everyone might be better off.  I suggested before that we needed something like the PLoS model for textbook production--this might push things in that direction. . .

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Alan Hartman to be interim Provost

The Chancellor announced that Alan Hartman, Dean of COB, is going to be the interim provost next year.

I don't know anything about him.  Has he done a good job for business, from a faculty perspective?  Should we look forward to any big shakeups next year?

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Provost Earns Flees!

The Chancellor announced today that Lane Earns will become the interim chancellor at UW-Parkside!

I remember seeing that the person chosen to be chancellor recently withdrew because he was under criminal investigation at his own school.

Now we are losing a very important person here on campus for the next year, at the least. Whatever my disagreements with Lane have been, he has generally defended academic interests on campus.

This loss worries me, as it may bring even more turmoil for LERT and other important initiatives on campus!

Friday, July 04, 2008

Liberal Faculty Dying Out?

The New York Times ran a story yesterday about the generational change in college faculties. Some of the most prominent university radicals of the 1960s are retiring, bringing younger faculty on to the scene.

The folks interviewed see a new generation less committed to social activism, while younger scholars see different pressures shaping the academy. I am not sure there is anything new here, but having the national media talk about how we are not as wacky as the last generation probably won't hurt our standing!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Now you can outsource your education!

I was browsing the web this afternoon, and came upon this article about students who hire Indian programmers to complete their computer programming assignments.

The article claims that it is not uncommon for British students to do this--it probably is already occuring here too.

Does check computer programs??

Friday, May 30, 2008

Another Slap in the Face to Faculty from Madison

Once again, the legislature and governor decided to make faculty pay for the budget shortfalls in Madison.  

We had our promised 2% pay increase reduced to 1%.  We are the only group of state employees who can have their salaries unilaterally changed by the legislature and the governor.  Thus, it is easy to break promises made to us.  The unionized state employees are protected by such action because of their ability to negotiate with the state as a collective.

This, of course, is on top of the fact that our pay runs far behind the national and regional averages for professors across the country.  We will only slip farther behind with this latest move.  

As the year comes to a close, this problem is made ever clearer as we find some of our most promising scholars pick up and move to other institutions where the pay is better.  There has been some discussion of the pay levels for chancellors, but we in the classrooms and laboratory never seem to make it into the discussion.

The repeated disrespectful attitude that comes from our elected leaders toward the UW system and the faculty damages our ability to education students and bring the latest, most sophisticated research to Wisconsin. 

 I have talked to many people, all of whom express great anger at once again being treated like this.  Even if people aren't leaving, they lose respect for our institution and are less likely to become involved in just the kind of projects that can make us a great place.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

New "Learning Outcomes" Approved

I have been too busy to blog the last few weeks as the semester wound to a close, but today I'll post the new learning outcomes that seem to be official.  These are supposedly going to serve as the new basis for what we do here on campus.

These categories are broad and seemingly all encompassing.  I suppose they suggest that very specific, technical knowledge is secondary to more general competency, but it is hard to find much to talk about here.

According to LERT, these are going to lead to some significant changes in the way that we operate over the next couple of years.  The real issues are yet to come--will we really change the nature of General Education because of these outcomes?  Will these lead to some sort of standardized exit testing for UWO students?  Can reforms that failed twice before be accomplished now?  Will the Chancellor even stay around long enough to find out??   

Will we arrive back on campus in the fall with an agenda for real change?  Stay tuned. . . .

Knowledge of Human Cultures and the Physical and Natural World

• Through study in fine and performing arts, humanities, mathematics and science, and social science
Focused by engagement with big questions, both contemporary and enduring

Skills, both Intellectual and Practical, including

• Identification and objective evaluation of theories and assumptions
• Critical and creative thinking
• Written and oral communication
• Quantitative literacy
• Technology and information literacy
• Teamwork, leadership, and problem solving
Practiced extensively, across the curriculum, in the context of progressively more challenging problems, projects, and standards for performance

Responsibility, as Individuals and Communities, including

• Knowledge of sustainability and its applications
• Civic knowledge and engagement—local and global
• Intercultural knowledge and competence
• Ethical reasoning and action
• Foundations and skills for lifelong learning
Developed through real-world challenges and active involvement with diverse communities 

Learning: Integrated, Synthesized, and Advanced, including

• Synthesis and advanced accomplishment across general and specialized studies
Demonstrated through the application of knowledge, skills, and responsibilities to new settings and complex problems.  

Friday, May 09, 2008

Spending on Instruction Down

I spotted this story over at  the percentage of tuition spent on direct instruction has dropped over the years.  The national average for institutions like ours is about 44%.  

As this has been declining relative to other spending over the years, the additional spending tends toward things like academic support services, new facilities, and administration.

As often as people have complained about faculty productivity, these figures suggest that this is not the driving factor in cost increases for college.

This post feels a little like deja vu, and it is.  I blogged about a similar story over 2 years ago!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Liberal Arts are Actually Up!

I want to highlight the work Bill Wresch did for us last week in the comments.  He found statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics (this link goes to a chart) that show that liberal arts majors are actually increasing:

Here are some changes since 1985 -
Total graduates - up 50%
ethnic studies - up 160%
performing arts - up 123%
psychology - up 116%
liberal arts - up 110%
philosophy - up 87%
biology - up 85%
comm/journalism - up 77%
history - up 72%
English - up 61%

Business - up 34% (less than the 50% general growth)
Computer science - up 12%
math - down 9%
physics - down 9%
engineering - down 14%

As she shows us, students are moving toward the liberal arts quite significantly.  What does this mean for the entire LERT initiative?  Are we preaching to the choir? 

Does that mean there is some sort of hidden agenda behind the larger liberal arts initiative of the AAC&U?  Our hidden agenda is really general education reform, but that isn't much of a secret.

Is the broader initiative really about different standards or more testing, using Liberal arts as a cover?

Friday, May 02, 2008

Chancellor Withdraws from Search

Chancellor Wells announced this afternoon that he is no longer a candidate to head the Pennsylvania State System.   He writes that the position was not a good fit for him.

Wow!  I am surprised!  The comments here reminded me about what a big promotion this would be for him.

For the campus, I would say that this is a good thing.   The continuity that this means for us on campus is surely a good thing, whether we fully agree with his policies or not.  All of the unfinished initiatives on campus need someone to keep pushing.

Here is his announcement:

To the UW Oshkosh Campus Community
I have just returned from several days of discussions with the Pennsylvania State University System of Higher Education (PASSHE) regarding the position of System Chancellor. These conversations were positive and fruitful, and the Board of Governors, which has not yet made a decision, has encouraged my continued candidacy. However, it is my impression that this leadership opportunity is not the best fit for me or perhaps PASSHE. Therefore, I have withdrawn my candidacy. I would like to take this opportunity to wish continued success to PASSHE’s outgoing Chancellor, Judy Hample, and her successor.
I suspect that my candidacy for this position has understandably raised concerns among some members of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh community. Therefore, I think it appropriate for me to briefly explain why I initially decided to become a candidate.
As you may know, experienced university chancellors and presidents are routinely recruited for other positions. In my case, I have been heavily recruited for more than a dozen such leadership roles, many of which have been excellent opportunities. With a few exceptions, I have chosen not to pursue these opportunities because of the outstanding support and success we are experiencing at UW Oshkosh.
One such exception was the Chancellorship of the Pennsylvania State University System. PASSHE is the fifth-largest system of higher education in the nation, comprised of 14 excellent public comprehensive universities.
It is important for me to acknowledge again how much I enjoy and appreciate being the Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. I have always considered it to be a great honor to serve as your Chancellor.
I greatly appreciate the patience and understanding many of you demonstrated this past week. I will continue, with your help and understanding, to work with you and to remain committed and focused as we move forward the priorities of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.
Richard H. Wells

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Publishers shift blame for high book prices

The A-T ran this article last Thursday--I just spotted it on-line this morning.  The bold headline, "Publishers: Professors drive up book prices," leads us to a story about the publisher's attempt to blame someone besides themselves for textbook prices.

There was a forum somewhere on campus last week that discussed textbook prices.  Apparently, representatives of the textbook companies claim that we are driving the prices of books up by reselling the copies that they deluge us with.

It looks like a tactic to try to get the students to look away from the other, much more significant issues in the textbook market. 

Let's start with unnecessary new editions.  Companies produce them on average once every three years--obviously in order to undercut the used book market, not because basic knowledge in any discipline is changing that rapidly.

Next, we might add unnecessarily elaborate printing--do we really need glossy paper, color on every page, exaggerated graphics, to get across the essentials of our discipline.  How much does that raise the cost?

How about profit?  According to the National Association of College Bookstores, 32% of the cost of each book is profit for the publishing company.  How much could we add to this for marketing costs? 

These are just a few elements that pop to mind. 

What we really need is a textbook service that looks like PloS.  Lets make the textbook knowledge available for public use and find a publishing track that can eliminate the worst excesses of the academic book market.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Will the Chancellor move to Pennsylvania?

Chancellor Wells announced today that he is a finalist for chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System Chancellor.

Sounds like a big promotion--moving to be the equivalent of President Reilly [EDIT: I called him Wiley in the first version] of our own system.

The chancellor does like to keep his hat in the ring--always looking for something better.

He seems to make the short-list about once a year. The last time we heard about his attempt to leave was back in October 2006. He thought about California in 2005.

I suppose I should have more of an opinion about this, but it is hardly surprising.

Friday, April 25, 2008

On-Line Textbooks Better?

The New York Times editorializes today that we should all think about using on-line textbooks, to cut back on costs for students.

This is based on a study that claims that students to no worse using them than using regular printed books.  The cynic in me says its because they don't read either. . . .

I asked my students about it, and about 40% said they would buy an on-line version if it cost less.  I may look into it.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Are international standardized tests the new frontier?

As if the US Dept. of Ed. wasn't bad enough, now the OECD is thinking of developing standardized tests

Luckily, the crowd in Washington doesn't like the idea of international organizations having input into education more than they do in any other area.

But if you are going to argue that standardized tests tell you something useful, why not make it an international comparison??

You can also see the anti-standardized testers in action in the Ivy league.  Apparently, Brown, Harvard, and Princeton are admitting a portion of their students at random.

Food for thought on Earth Day!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Publishers go after E-Reserve

In copyright-holder's never ending quest to crush fair-use, we find a new chapter.  Publishers are suing Georgia State for their e-Reserve.  Here is the story from the NYTimes.

The publishers claim that some material available on campus electronically contains too large of a percentage of copyrighted material.   I am sure that by filing the lawsuit, they hope to convince skittish administrators to tighten e-reserve policies across the country.

Our library's e-reserve policy strikes a good balance at the moment, but I wonder if they won't be pressured to change now that lawsuits are in the air. . . 

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Support for grading change substantial

The vote is in.  Faculty strongly voted in favor of changing the grading system.  65% of those who voted said yes to a 12-point scale.

Interestingly, there is a big split between colleges.

COLS and Nursing were overwhelmingly for the change, while the College of Business was strongly against it (the email says 2-1).  COEHS was split evenly.

I'll admit that I voted in favor of the resolution, although I expressed reservations earlier.  I wouldn't mind having the extra flexibility, though I have gotten used to the old way of doing things.  

I wonder why voters in COBA are so strongly opposed.  Anyone who voted against the change want to chime in?

Monday, April 07, 2008

Philosophy is booming!?

The New York Times reports this week that the number of philosophy majors at Rutgers is up.  The article implies that this is part of a broader trend towards resurgence of the importance of the liberal arts. (The NYT does like to report anomalies as if they are part of a larger trend!)

It would be nice to see, if true, that students are realizing that an "unpractical" major like philosophy is worthwhile.  Does anyone know if that is true here at UWO?

Can LERT be part of a movemnt that will convince students of the value of philosophy?  Is a broader trend on the horizon that will emphasize core skills and exploration in college, rather than mundane job training?

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

You will be assimilated: Join Wikipedia now!

A biology professor argues that wikipedia has won.  We should accept this and become one with the borg (forgive the Star Trek analogy).

Editing content in our area of expertise would make wikipedia worthwhile.  I am not sure I buy it.  Wikipedia can have good information on it, but both we and our students need to be very skeptical of anything presented there.  Our editing would only make students that much more willing blindly accept what they read there.

Can you tell that I didn't finish my grading over spring break and am avoiding it this week too?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Is Your Prof on Drugs???

Are professors taking stimulants to get ahead?  The NYTimes wants to know. . .

Some anecdotal evidence suggests that professors are taking adderall and other stimulants, so that they can stay focused and work twice as hard.    Do you think there is a lot of brain-doping among the faculty here?  

The article goes from that to a discussion of whether brain-doping is worse than steroids in sports.  The media does like the broad discussion about where we should/can draw the line between unnatural and natural improvement of ourselves.  . .

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Do we need a new grading scale?

The faculty senate wants to change the grade scale here at Oshkosh.  They are holding a referendum on the question in a few weeks.

The referendum asks whether we should abandon the current scale and move to a more traditional +/- scale.  Now we have an 8-point scale, if we change, we would have a 12-point scale.

The reasons for this seems to be that the current scale does not give us enough precision in grading and that we are different than most other institutions.

Now that I have written this, I can't figure out why.  Who cares?  Who dislikes the present scale so much that we need to change it?  I can not really be against having the ability to make finer distinctions, but I don't see why this has come up as a topic now.

Does anyone have really strong feelings about this?  Are we or our students suffering because there are only 8 possible grades?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Sh** hits the fan: UW System moves to regulate off-campus behavior

It is all over the news this week:  UW system is trying to change campus rules to be able to punish students for off-campus behavior.  New rules have been distributed for comment that seem to radically change the nature of the relationship between students and the universities.  

You can read the Northwestern's editorial here.  There are news stories across the entire state

Looking at a few stories, it looks dangerously vague--students can be disciplined on campus for imparing the university's mission.  What in the world does that mean?   

The vagueness seems to suggest that an overzealous administrator could punish a student for stridently criticizing their institution.  It also makes me wonder about how the universities would be able to implement this code.  Are the university authorities now going to leave campus to police the neighborhoods?  Are we going to employ snitches to rat out students who behave badly off campus? 

It looks like a hornets nest to me. . . 


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

House of Representatives attacks high price of textbooks

A Washington Post blog reports that the House of Representatives has passed legislation that requires divulging the price of textbooks to teachers and restricts bundling of books with other items.  The language is not in the Senate version of the bill, so it is probably just noise.

However,  as we have been talking about textbook costs on our own campus, it seems like an interesting story.  I often end up going to amazon to find the cost of the books that flood my mailbox.   I am sensitive to the cost of my choices, but don't let that be the deciding factor.

Having better access to the price would definitely make things easier for me.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Conservatives have wrong mind-set for Academia

The Chronicle of Higher Education has the story of a conservative public policy professor who argues that conservative values are the reason there are fewer people on the right in academia.  

He and his wife surveyed undergraduates and came to this conclusion.  Here is my favorite paragraph:

For example, liberal students reported valuing intellectual freedom, creativity, and the chance to write original work and make a theoretical contribution to science. They outnumbered conservative students two to one in the humanities and social sciences — which are among the fields most likely to produce interest in doctoral study. Conservative students, however, put more value on personal achievement and orderliness, and on practical professions, like accounting and computer science, that could earn them lots of money.

This is an interesting argument and generally makes sense to me.   What do you think?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Dumbing Down America

Susan Jacoby writes this article in the Sunday Washington Post.  In it, she argues there is a crisis of anti-intellectualism in America.  On top of the fact that Americans don't know much, she argues there is a growing belief that you don't need to know much.

I found this a thought-provoking piece and I wonder if we face this dillema more acutely than most.  Our students already believe that college is mostly about getting a piece of paper so that they can get a job.  Are they also becoming increasingly resistant to learning?

Friday, February 08, 2008

Budget Crisis Looming: Lets Raise Administrators' Pay!!

The Journal-Sentinal reports that the Regents have decided to raise the pay range of UW system chancellors.  The largest raise is a whopping 66% increase for UW Madison, but all the others' new range is at least 10% higher.

We recieved the notice from the Chancellor about watching our spending because of a slowing Wisconsin economy.  Now, we have the tone-deaf regents getting ready to raise the pay of administrators as the rest of the state prepares for cuts.

Why do administrators think they deserve so much money anyway?  Apparently the current crop are doing an awful job at their pay level and we need to encourage better applicants.  At least that is the excuse. . . .  Maybe we can cut a few more faculty lines to pay for the fat raises!

Friday, February 01, 2008

New Movie Policy Coming?

Someone actually posted something to the COLS discussion list this morning. It seems as of late, there has been almost no list activity. In this case, it is a bit of old business. Three historians are announcing that there will be a change in campus-wide movie policy.

The new policy will allow clubs to show movies, with certain restrictions--you can read about it below. I am glad to see that student groups will again be able to show movies on campus without having to pay big licensing fees!

Still, it seems inexplicable that the Reeve Union theater can not be used for such activities. Apparently, Petra Roter and students do not believe that any education takes place there. Isn't that why they built it in the first place?!?

For a little context, you can look at the blogposts from the spring of 2006:

Film Nazi's Invade Campus

Fair Use Debate Rages All Day

Revised Movie Policy Appears on Discussion List

Anyway, here is the letter:

Dear Colleagues:

Karl Loewenstein, Michelle Kuhl and I are happy to announce that there will soon be a new set of guidelines for screening films and documentaries on our campus.

We initially engaged the university community in a discussion on this topic, you may recall, in April 2006. That discussion was triggered by several history students’ concern over the impact new guidelines were having on student groups’ ability to screen films on campus. (In that month the Student Allocations Committee froze the funding of the International Film Series and threatened the leadership of the History Club with legal action and punitive fines if they showed historical films without purchasing public performance rights—rights obtained at approximately $300 per film.)

Over the past twenty months we have been working with Dr. Petra Roter, Reeve Director Randy Hedge and UW System Legal to forge a commonsense campus-wide film policy based on guidelines set forth in Section 110 (1) of the 1976 Copyright Act. In a conference call with an UW System attorney, we reached an agreement on the feasibility of showing films and documentaries in campus “educational spaces” devoted to instruction.

In subsequent months, we failed to convince the Reeve Advisory Council, the Oshkosh Student Association, Petra Roter and Reeve Union staff that the Reeve Union Theater qualifies as an educational space—a “similar place devoted to instruction” as outlined in the provisions of the 1976 Copyright Act. Most recently they have ratified their position by citing the fact that Reeve Union is funded by student segregated fees and is therefore not technically an academic building.

The revised guidelines have been submitted to the OSA and SAC and will soon be incorporated into the Student Handbook. While several details need to be ironed out, the revised guidelines make it clear that student groups may legally show films in academic buildings without paying for public performance rights as long as the films are shown primarily for educational purposes. In order to substantiate the educational purpose, the guidelines suggest that the showing should be in an academic building and under the supervision of an instructor teaching a class related to the film.

Those of us who recall with fondness the vibrant film cultures which thrived on the campuses we once attended and who now assign films in their classrooms (and who, in the process, are continually heartened by students’ confessions that they “blown away” by films [black-and-white, foreign language and documentary] that they would never have dreamed of viewing on their own) may still be disappointed that access to the premiere venue on campus for film—the Reeve Union—is restricted. But we are glad that a set of new and revised guidelines have addressed previous misperceptions and will ultimately create an environment that will add to the educational experience of our students.


Stephen Kercher, Karl Loewenstein and Michelle Kuhl
Department of History

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Robert Bacon's Response to no Sloshkosh

Robert Bacon, infamous producer of sloshkosh t-shirts, sent me an email in response to my posting about UWO's attempt to suppress his t-shirt business.   He emphasizes that he sees his site as something fun.

I thought I would part of his comments about the free speech issue with you:

  • On the note of the shirts. After some research I am absolutely sure that if I fought this trademark that the University made, that I would win. You can't trademark a commonly used term and I would only have to prove that Sloshkosh and UW-Zero were commonly used terms before the trademark. Why didn't I fight? It's simple, I don't have the time nor the money to do such a thing, even if I could find a lawyer to help me out. I don't want my studies to be affected by something so silly as some t-shirts. I don't make much money off my shirts because I only charge $1 above cost. My goal with UW College Life is not to make money but to express myself and other UW students in a real light.
Thanks for your response, Robert!  I am glad to hear how you view the whole sloshkosh phenomenon.

Do You Know "Helicopter Parents?"

The Journal Sentinal is running a story about intrusive parents who try to manage their college student's lives.   I have heard of such people, calling professors, deans, or others to try to solve problems that their kids face.  Clearly, kids and parents are more connected than they have been in the past, thanks to cell phones, so it is not completely unexpected.

Personally, I haven't had that happen yet.  I imagine that this might be more of a problem at smaller colleges where they encourage the idea that professors are particularly accessible.   With over 11,000 students, faculty are generally seen as less available than smaller institutions, so it may mitigate this issue.

How about you?  Any "helicopter parents" pressuring you to take care of their kid?  

Friday, January 18, 2008

Northwestern Editorial Rant against Academia

I have to post the editorial from the Northwestern this morning. Mary Hiles, ex-lecturer in the UWO English department, recycles the tired, old charges from David Horowitz and the right-wing American Council of Trustees and Alumni about professors' political views in the classroom (many of which have been disbunked).

Her entry into this is Bill McConkey. He was in the paper a few months ago as the lead plaintiff in a law suit against the anti-civil union amendment to the Wisconsin constitution. Oddly, she gives us detail about a professor in New Jersey about whom people on say bad things.

I am not even sure McConkey is currently teaching here (or ever even mentioned the constitutional amendment in a class), but Hiles decides to use it as proof that "liberal" professors force their views on students in their classrooms.

Besides being a gratuitous, hollow attack on UWO, it demonstrates once again the failure of 'community columnists' to produce editorials that don't waste your time.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Happy New Year and Women in College

Welcome back everyone! Interim is underway and activity is beginning to pick up on campus. I hope everyone had a good relaxing month since I last posted!

Today, I am posting this story from the Journal-Sentinel about women in college. Enrollment and graduation rates for women are much higher than that for men in Wisconsin, as it is on our own campus. I don't remember the exact figures, but there is clearly a spread between men and women here.

It is part of a theme that has stretched back since the beginning of the blog.

Here I am in 2005, referencing U.S. Today.

Here is the NYTimes in 2006.

Here is a post from 2007.

(Wow, I have been at this for a while!!)

Nothing is really being done about the stagnation of male participation rates in college, although we have been aware of the gap for years. I am still not convinced that it is a problem, but perhaps we should intervene before it does become one. But how?!?