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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Modern Metaphor

The story is told of the three Ph.D.s who are out walking through the woods. They come upon some tracks. The first says the tracks are of a fawn that is starving and unable to find food in the diminished forest. The second says no, the tracks are from a polar bear driven south by warming in the arctic. The thirds says no the tracks are from an alligator that has been driven out of the swamp by development. They were still arguing when the train hit them.

Please allow me to use the above as a metaphor regarding our present position. The injunction has been denied. While this does not mean the law suit will fail, it is important that we understand where we as faculty are, and what is important to us now versus what may be important to collective bargaining in the future. Please don't read this as diminishing the importance of legal action when the CBA seems to have been challenged. However, as readers of this blog know, I have long been of the opinion that organization means relatively little in terms of outcomes. If you have the right people, the organization works. If you have the wrong people, it doesn't. Treating reorganization as either a silver bullet or a deadly one is wrong and pretty much a waste of time and resources. While I believe this administration has made a hash out of the process, it has really amounted to a smokescreen that has blinded us to more important issues.

There is a financial reckoning (here comes the train) about to occur January 1st when our new Governor takes office. It is unlikely that he will agree with the present system of financing higher education in Ohio. We need to insist on a transparent University budget. We are all taxpayers and should have access to public information. Also, we need to insist on real input in terms of who gets resources and who does not. Make no mistake, there will be cuts. It is our job to see that these take place with our students first and foremost in everyone's mind.

Speaking of our students, that brings me to a second and even more important issue. What constitutes a quality university level education? This has not been addressed. STEMM departments have gotten resources while the rest of us are told to do more with less. With the number of graduates produced each year by the great unwashed departments, I would suggest that we are every bit as much a part of that great economic engine so often referred to in PR releases as anyone else. In addition, here at the University of Extreme Student Centeredness, we continue to increase class size, as well as the number of visiting assistant professors and part-time instructors. This is not meant to slam those groups, but they are here for three years and sometimes fewer than that. While some part-times have been here forever (without a raise) most come and go. At a University that has been discussing an undergraduate research requirement, how do these two match. Research means tenure and tenure track faculty--and not just in STEMM departments.

The final item for today is assessment. This almost invariably has to do with me deriving a number for the sake of outside evaluators (read as Higher Learning Commission). First I tell the student what outcomes he/she should gain from the class. These must appear on my syllabus. Then, I have to show whether or not the students actually achieved said outcomes. For years I thought these were called grades, but no I'm wrong. I have to specifically show which questions and assignments dealt with which outcome and how well everyone did or did not do and hence show whether my class was successful. Implied here is whether I was good at my job. More and more legislatures, administrators and bureaucracies in general want a number, a metric if you will. Former Bush Secretary of Education Spellings thought you should be able to place a number next to every college and university in the country so that parents would "know" where the best value was for their child. I won't begin to explain the absurdity of it all. The problem is we must address this in some formal way. I was in a meeting where it was stated that the Higher Learning Commission eventually wants us to follow our graduates so that we can assess whether our curriculum has been successful or not. So let me make this as simple as possible. The department curriculum and I have a student for 43 hours of classes over a period that usually ranges from four to six years. The world has him/her the rest of the time. Then, five years down the road my curriculum and I are going to be held hostage to the responses (probably non random) from these former students. To believe that such results will have any validity is nonsense. There has been little statewide or national movement to tell the Higher Learning Commission, legislatures and others what a grand wast of time and effort this is. There has been little movement to tell others that learning is a two-way street and that despite my best efforts some students refuse to come to class, do the reading or even consider the subject matter. And yet, I am going to be held responsible. Excuse me, but I think I hear a train.


Anonymous said...

Could not agree more with your analysis!
But, you know, students are CLIENTS and as such they are always right, so if they do not learn, it is our fault.
I see the train approaching fast... good luck to all of us.

Anonymous said...

The state of Ohio pays UT a subsidy of $6,000 for a STEM class, vs. $2,200 for a core class. It also pays $3,200 for some other types of classes. I may be a little bit off on the specifics, but the proportions are right. For a university so focused on money, you can see why the STEM departments are favored.

Anonymous said...

You need not fear: students will only be tracked IF they find jobs and IF they are not convicted of felonies. The percentage of graduates going to jail or otherwise will never be reported.