Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Change the University?

I read this op-ed piece in the NYTimes yesterday.   A religion professor from Columbia proposes completely rethinking the university.  Although much of his focus is on graduate education, he proposes sweeping changes:

1. Change curriculum to make it like the web, cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural

2. Abolish permanent departments.  

3. Stop overlap between universities

4. Get rid of dissertations

5.  Change graduate training

6. No tenure and forced retirement

The core of his argument is that universities produced graduates, both undergrad and PhD, that nobody wants.  He thinks that current training and scholarship in the humanities is basically worthless.  For him, it won't be worth anything until it is "relevant."

On top of that, he believes that old faculty are useless.   In his vision, everyone gets tenure and then never changes.  He obviously doesn't think much of younger faculty either, because of their over-specific research agendas. He describes newly minted PhD's as clones of their advisors.

Since we are in the midst of our own discussions about reform, centered around LERT and general education, this article does give us something additional to ponder.

Reform and adaptation are important, but eliminating the entire system?  Expecting everyone to be generalists who change topics every 7 years?  Increasing the pressure on faculty and strengthening the hands of administration?  

The religion professor seems to have gotten business, rather than the other way around! 

Friday, April 24, 2009

UW Steven's Point chancellor resigns -- Earn headed North?

This article appeared in the Journal-Sentinel yesterday.  The Stevens Point chancellor, Linda Bunnell resigned, primarily because she was involved in an accident in a state car.  She didn't report it and had been drinking at a private club before it occurred.

She had apparently already made plenty of enemies, so this was the straw that broke the camel's back.  

I doubt Provost Earns will be leaving again, since they appointed their own provost to be the interim chancellor.  It seems like a good way to tie the story into our own campus.

The incident, however, raises the continuing question as to why these leaders think they live in a different world than the rest of us.  Dr. Bunnell didn't feel like laws applied to her.  I have complained about the way that academia has aped the worst of wall street in insisting that their leaders have to be grossly overpaid to be effective.  They also seem to have imbibed the spirit of being untouchable, no matter what they do to their institution.  

The average pay for presidents is $427,000 a year.  Now I know that UW system does not pay nearly that much, but they insist that they need to increase the range to "stay competitive."

Perhaps the economic downturn will bring some sanity back to the pay scale for administrators and a bit less arrogance. 

Finally, I might put in a good word for our own Chancellor Wells.  He has avoided such crazy scandals and has worked hard defending our insititution in Madison and in public.   There are things that could be better, but thus is life.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Facebook linked to lower grades in college

I just had to post this link.  An education researcher at Ohio State found that facebook users haver lower GPAs than non-users.

Facebook has been getting all the hype lately, as old folks are flocking to it.  Now, we find a connection between facebook and performance in college.

I have a feeling that heavy facebook users would not be doing better without it, as they would find some other way to avoid studying.  It is fun nonetheless!

Monday, April 13, 2009

In Wisconsin, all professors are below average. . .

The Journal-Sentinel is on an education kick and published an article today about how we are all paid much less than the national average.

A nice chart accompanies the article and you can see that UWO's average is about 90% of the national average.  We are, however, in the top half of UW system schools.  

There is really no news in this--even the regents acknowledged how far we were behind other comparable institutions--before they reneged on our small pay increase.

In these budgetary times, nothing is going to change, but I like to see our situation appear in the newspapers.  

Monday, April 06, 2009

Grades at UW-Milwaukee

The Journal-Sentinel ran an story examining the grades given at UWM from 2006-2008.  They filed an open-records request and present the data.  

The average grade at UWM is apparently a B.  The lowest grades given were in math classes, the highest in education.

The paper also gives also sorts of charts, even by name of professors, with top 10 highest grades, lowest grades, GPAs, etc.  I think we actually collect data like this, but it has never run in the newspaper.  We might expect this coming soon from the Northwestern.

The J-S particularly goes after the school of education, whose average grade given is an A-.  It is fun reading about the squirming ed. profs trying to explain why every student they teach is excellent.  They claim that their national ranking  (96th--is that actually good?) justifies their easy grading policies.

We have had our own discussions of this topic, but it takes on a new dimension when grades are the lead story in the local newspaper.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Snarky Northwestern article impugns integrity of staff

The lead story in the Northwestern this morning reported on the Chancellor's meetings about the budget cuts we face.  Jeff Bollier writes, "it became clear each established and entrenched segment of the university population is looking to others to bear the brunt of cuts."

This, of course, implies, that we all are only looking out for ourselves.  I haven't seen the report, but I am not quite sure how this kind of sloppy reporting helps anyone.

Not surprisingly, there were an incredible diversity of opinions as to what should be cut to deal with a significant cutback.  The fact that people like we "entrenched" faculty members value what we do and think that student instruction and faculty research should be protected is somehow problematic.  The fact that some who answered the anonymous survey want big cuts represents division within our community.  

Perhaps Chancellor Wells gave the impression that he has grand innovative ways to reshape the university and is being blocked by the curmugeonly established segments.

Is is surprising that faculty believe that students already face classes that are too large, that creating new knowledge is a key component of our jobs, and that the constant reduction of our pay in real dollars is a bad thing?   Talk to student leaders on campus: they believe the same thing.  

The anti-education people who answered the survey by arguing for lower quality in order to save money are the same ones who argue that universities are useless in modern society.