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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Open Letter from Ashley Pryor to David Nemeth

Ashley Pryor to editor, David, me

Hi [Bloggie],

Sorry if I am not sending this to the correct person, but Professor Nemeth and I have been having an exchange about his post on the A& S College Forum website. He let me know that IC reporters would be talking to him today and encouraged me to send you a copy of the open letter I wrote to him, and also sent to the blog to be posted. I am copying Jim and "Bloggie" in the spirit of continuing a collegial exchange on these important issues.


Letter begins here:


I am one of those people who is troubled by your recent post, “Hub of Mediocrity: Inviting the Playground into our Classroom,” on the “Arts & Sciences College Forum (The Blog Formerly Known as Arts & Sciences Council e Forum).” I am taking the time to write this because the way we frame our urban schools directly impacts my family, but also because I have had the pleasure of teaching so many wonderful students this semester-- exceptionally bright, motivated, ambitious, students, many of whom are the first members of their families to attend college. I am terribly concerned about the message that they might take away from posts that seem to unproblematically equate urban schools with anti-intellectual attitudes and behavior problems. To cut to the chase, here are the two passages that I have questions about:

“I have asked repeatedly to our group why UT is interested in recruiting and then retaining (at great cost in dollars and reputation) academically-unmotivated students rather than recruiting on-record high-performing academically-motivated students? Are we after a top-tier quantity ranking or top-tier quality ranking? These questions have so far gone unanswered.”

“The floodgates are already opening up: the discipline problems and anti-academic attitudes that have already trashed the academic aspirations of our urban public primary and secondary schools are apparently soon to be invited, accommodated and formally implemented into our own A&S College curriculum, scholarship, teaching/learning modalities, space and graduate studies. The huge internal contradiction and false claim in this Roundtable Report is that it claims to be taking the High Road to Top-Tier Ranking while it is obviously mapping out instead in this Roundtable Implementation Report a Low Road to Mediocrity -- or worse.”

Your first assertion is that, “UT is interested in recruiting and retaining academically-unmotivated students.” I don’t know of any formal policy to recruit underprepared students. Are you serious? The only change in recruitment practices that I know about is the UT Guarantee, a program that recruits high-achieving (minimum 3.0 average), financially challenged students from the state’s 21 urban centers. In the absence of any information about a new formal policy of recruiting and retaining academically-unmotivated students, and knowing only about this new program, I wonder if you are willfully mischaracterizing the UT Guarantee program as recruiting academically-unmotivated students. I look forward to hearing you clarify your meaning. In the next paragraph you seem to characterize disciplinary problems and anti-academic attitudes as a problem endemic to our urban schools, but never acknowledge that under-prepared, unmotivated, and undisciplined students also come from our suburban schools (btw here I am presupposing racial and ethnic diversity in both settings). If your intent is call attention to the problem of anti-academic attitudes, disciplinary problems, etc., so that we can find ways to address them on campus as they arise, why not just focus on these issues? Why focus on students from urban schools?

I wonder how our students will read the flurry of anonymous exchanges on this blog, which is unfortunately still named the “Arts and Science Forum,” even though it no longer officially represents A&S Council. Today two of our students came before council to express their concerns about language that they characterized as “racist” and found to be offensive. And while I can appreciate that some faculty were reluctant to comment upon or decry a blog entry they had not yet seen, I hope faculty will be concerned about what students (and colleagues at other institutions, and our constituents throughout the state of Ohio) will see on this blog if they visit. Consider this entry, posted a few days ago by an anonymous blogger: “If I am reborn in this World as a UT A&S College professor I will consider inviting student clickers, tweeters, cell phones and other recreational devices into my classroom. Just allow me my taser.” Just what kind of message are we sending to our students with this kind of talk? And what is it about this site that seems to elicit so many anti-student sentiments? Is this really something that we want up on a blog that is still named the Arts and Science Forum? I for one think not.

Ashley Pryor


Anonymous said...

Speaking as a racially diverse student myself, I for one think the UT Guarantee is one of the most degrading programs this campus has to offer. Talk about racial profiling. 21 URBAN cities sounds very much like we are trolling for underprivileged students to give handouts to. Not only that, the expanded version was announced on Martin Luther King day, like it's some sort of handout for African American students. Why are we only targeting urban students? Are they poorer than the Sylvania kids? Do they deserve a chance at an education more than the kid who goes to Sylvania schools, whose parents make 41,000 a year? If this school wants to be fair and unbiased it needs to start expanding it's Guarantee to at least one city in every county in the state of Ohio and any cities/counties it serves in S.E. Michigan.

And to top it off I see right through the free part of the guarantee. We all know that UT is getting some sort of profit from the state/fed. gov't. If any students should be offended it's the ones who just got herded in here to make UT and it's numbers look better.

I cannot wait for the professors to come in with teasers. I am tired of watching students play farmville in front of me while the professor tries their best to lecture while all the other students stare fascinated with the internet based tomatoes some student just harvested.

Give me a break, and stop patronizing students. Oh and I am an AA and am not from an urban city...more like a poor farming county that needs to see something like the UT Guarantee.

Anonymous said...

So by publishing this comment, aren't you proving None's point that urban is code for black to many people? Why would you publish such an offensive stereotype?

Anonymous said...

Will Dr. Nemeth be responding to Dr. Pryor's letter?

Ashley said...

Dear Anonymous Two,

I invite you to reread the post again carefully, and see if in it I equate urban with minority in this post...hint: in the fourth paragraph you will find the answer!

Anonymous Three: In a recent, email cordial exchange Dr. Nehmeth indicated that he would be responding here.


Anonymous One: I am still mulling over how to write a thoughtful reply to your post.

Anonymous Two said...

Anonymous Two here... Ashley, I apologize. My comment was vaguely directed. Your post was wonderful.

I was questioning why the blog comment approvers would post such a ignorant comment from Anonymous One that seems to make the very point (urban = minority) that the blog posters had been trying to fight.

Anonymous said...

To Ashley and Others: Actually I did promptly respond to these very same questions and concerns when they were first posed to me by other readers of this forum as “Comments” by “FRD” and “Horns ‘n Fins”:

“I'm all for any program that demonstrates it promotes "first-tier" academic excellence in our Arts and Sciences College. Are the retention rates for UT Guarantee students good? I have not seen that data. Speaking of data: Here, for seven Ohio universities, are the six-year graduation rates for students entering in 2001:

Miami University = 78.5%
University of Cincinnati = 51.7%
Bowling Green = 56.6%
University of Akron = 33.9%
Cleveland State University 31.3%
Ohio State University = 71.2%
Kent State = 50% (for 2003-2009)

This OBOR data appears in a Kent State University newspaper report written by Kelly Petryszyn titled "University Concerned about Low Graduation Rates" and can be viewed here:

Perhaps someone out there can share with us comparable data for UT. signed, Jim”

I will of course respond anew to the particulars expressed in your own post later this morning when I return from class. Jim

Anonymous said...

Ashley, you mention a number of times how students will react to things they read in the blog. My question is, how many students read the blog at all? (Did either of the student representatives who came to the A & S Council meeting this week?)

horns n' fins said...

This is in reply to Jim's "anonymous" post above.

1. lists UT's 6-year graduation rate as 42%.

2. The UT Guarantee program was announced last Fall. Application deadlines were during the Spring semester so this semester, Fall 09, is the first semester of attendance for students who had been awarded this scholarship, so no retention statistics are yet possible for them.

3. Retention data for students with the same characteristics was presented by Kevin Kucera, Associate Vice President for Enrollment Services at the October 14, 2008 Faculty Senate meeting. The minutes are available at with VP Kucera's remarks beginning near the bottom of the fifth page. His PowerPoint presentation is available at Retention rates for for DHS students are on 10th slide. The figures show that students with the eligibility requirements of the UT Guarantee program have retention rates comparable to the overall UT student population and higher than the overall rates for all students from the initial six target cities.