“[A]nd the number of the counting shall be three.”

16 04 2014

While I was making my way home from Atlanta on Sunday, a whole bunch of my virtual and actual friends were still at the Organization of American Historians annual meeting discussing whether blogging is scholarship. While I’m sorely tempted to weigh in on this question myself, I think I’d rather follow Mike O’Malley’s example and consider exactly what scholarship is. Or to put it a slightly different way, what and who is scholarship for? Or maybe just why scholarship?

What’s sent me down this path before I even saw O’Malley’s post is this rather amazing article from Smithsonian (which I found via Rebecca Schuman, who’s probably still laughing her ass off about this days after she first read it):

“There are a lot of scientific papers out there. One estimate puts the count at 1.8 million articles published each year, in about 28,000 journals. Who actually reads those papers? According to one 2007 study, not many people: half of academic papers are read only by their authors and journal editors, the study’s authors write.

But not all academics accept that they have an audience of three. There’s a heated dispute around academic readership and citation—enough that there have been studies about reading studies going back for more than two decades.

In the 2007 study, the authors introduce their topic by noting that “as many as 50% of papers are never read by anyone other than their authors, referees and journal editors.” They also claim that 90 percent of papers published are never cited.”

Of course, the flies in the ointment of this discussion are tenure and promotion standards. Early-career scholars with blogs want blogging to be scholarship because that will make tenure easier to attain. I know that sounds bad, but really what’s the use of running the normal academic peer review gauntlet if it’s likely that only three people will read the result?

Coincidentally, this discussion and this article happened at the same time that I have to worry about precisely this sort of thing once again. Yes, I’m a tenured full professor, but as anybody among the somewhat more than three people who read this blog regularly know our administration here at CSU-Pueblo is trying very hard to move the vast majority of professors at this institution from a 3-3 (or 9 credit) to a 4-4 (or 12 credit) teaching load. While I was once optimistic that there would be enough exceptions to that standard that most active scholars on campus would be able to avoid it and continue their research apace, I am not anymore.

Here’s why: A few weeks ago, our Provost published his new research standards at the back of a grant application form for a single semester of release time. To my knowledge, he did not consult our faculty senate or any faculty members whatsoever before doing so. Here is a selection from that document (no link because it was e-mail only, e-mail attachment only to be exact):

“At CSU-Pueblo, faculty are expected to teach 12 credit hours per semester (and engage in research/scholarly/creative activity, and perform service). I emphasize that regular scholarly activity is expected of faculty who teach a 12 cr hr teaching load per semester. Awarding equivalency time to conduct research/scholarly/creative activity, above and beyond the usual expectations that we have of faculty, requires careful justification – even moreso at a public institution, in an environment with significantly constrained resources.”

Here’s what it says about release time for scholarly activity in our faculty handbook:

“After consultation with the faculty and Chair of a department, the Dean shall recommend to the Provost all requests for release from teaching. Faculty members released from teaching assignments shall devote a minimum of three (3) clock hours per week for each semester hour of released time to tasks associated with such release….Release from teaching to engage in sponsored research, University supported scholarly or creative activity, University service or other approved activities may be authorized by the Provost dependent upon the availability of funds and program needs.”

In other words, we’re going from an environment in which the vast majority of faculty members received that one course release to an environment in which we all have to prove that we’re not ripping off the taxpayers of Colorado and we still might not get that course release anyway. Furthermore, there’s been no hint that the standards on our annual performance reviews will be amended at all to reflect this rather significant change in policy.

While I’m fortunate enough to have no need to submit this blog as proof of scholarship, other faculty members on campus might not be quite as productive as I’ve been lately. Here’s the gauntlet that we all have to run to get one of 20 or so release time “fellowships” to pay for our adjunct replacements (as described in that policy statement I referenced above):

“The Provost will not approve equivalency time for research/scholarly/creative activity for Fall 2014-Spring 2015 if there is not a demonstrable peer-reviewed work product within the previous 2 or 3 years, depending upon the amount of equivalency time requested.”

It so happens that I approve of the peer review process. In most cases it has significantly improved the work that I’ve published, but as anybody with actual experience in peer review knows this slows things down to an unimaginable degree. For example, I wrote on article to mark the centennial of the Ludlow Massacre for Labor during my sabbatical a year and a half ago in order to make the anniversary itself, which is this very week. It’s accepted, but won’t be published until the fall, months after the anniversary is over.

Will more than three people read that article? Labor is a very good journal so I think so. However, even before I read that Smithsonian article I had become increasingly convinced that most academic journals are utterly useless. The value of blogging (or God forbid practicing actual journalism) is that you’re almost instantly guaranteed a much wider audience than publication in even the most respected academic journals will ever give you. Shouldn’t the point of scholarship be to influence the way the world works? If so, how can anybody justify a narrow fixation on peer review if almost nobody reads the results?

What troubles me most, however, is my administration’s demand for a “demonstrable peer-reviewed work product” within a two to three year window. My last book took me (on and off) thirteen years. Nevertheless, I still want to write more books. Not only that, I want to write more books that people will actually read. I’m currently close to being under contract to write two more comparatively quick refrigeration related books using my surplus research. Both will be peer-reviewed (or at least extensively peer-edited). After that, however, my Harvey Wiley biography is going to take a huge amount of time for me to finish because his papers are all back East and that extra class I’ll be teaching starting this fall isn’t going to speed that process up any.

As you might imagine, this whole situation makes me incredibly sad. If the only solution to this problem is to write short, crappy, purely academic work that reads like the instructions for the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch and only three people ever read it, I don’t know if I want to play this game anymore.





Reinventing the wheel.

27 03 2014

What’s old is new again in edtech land. While that’s always been true to some extent, what’s new now is that this constant effort at reinvention has begun to take MOOCs as the status quo to be contrasted against rather than what they once were, namely the bright, shiny new thing that will save us all.

You say you want evidence for this trend? The folks who produce one particular online program tweeted this at me last week, presumably because the author used my Slate article as a jumping off point:

As a social phenomenon, access to education in this way – that is available for everyone, for free – is unprecedented and changing the way we live, work and learn. No one wants to move away from that or undo the huge steps forward we have made. But, as we have seen, it is not a perfect system. Something needs to change to utilise this power to its best advantage, to take what we have learned and move it a step further. Students need interaction with their teachers and fellow students. They need support. What we have seen so far is that MOOCs fail to address the need for communication as a learning tool.

Their solution? “[A] combination of online learning and personal interaction.” Don’t get me wrong: That’s certainly an improvement over MOOCs, but something like that’s been available for about twenty years now. They’re called online classes. You know…the non-massive ones. Certainly online classes are not all the same, particularly since the more student/teacher interaction they foster the better. However, to claim that personal attention is somehow an exclusive selling point of this one provider requires a rather selective reading of edtech history.

Nevertheless, others have actually invented their own new acronym for doing what some people have been doing for ages now. My much-valued commenter and online friend Contingent Cassandra sent me this link:

Small Private Online Courses (SPOCs) on the other hand, are purposely focusing on class size as a sort of opposite of the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). A University Business article emphasizes that this isn’t a new model, but one that may be finding a broader audience as school and corporate partners offer specialized curricula to small groups of (17-20) learners. These numbers mean that the kinds of support often missing in MOOCs and other large classes – such as personalized feedback and coaching, and opportunities for real-world experience – are more readily available.

That sound you hear is a whole slew of dedicated online instructors hitting their heads against their desks over and over again. Certainly offering online students this kind of personal attention beats what they’d get in MOOCs, but when you get right down to it that’s not a very high standard, is it? The other important question is how long can these Small Private Online Courses can stay small. When will the profit motive that even public universities now express regularly get the best of any instructor’s best intentions?

Leaving the substantial minority of people who do really innovative teaching online aside, the question then becomes how should we judge online education as a whole. What does online education get right that we can’t do in face-to-face classes? What does it get wrong? More importantly, why does it get what it gets wrong wrong? New UC Chancellor Janet Napalitano (of all people) may have hit the nail on the head here:

“There’s a developing consensus that online learning is a tool for the toolbox, but it’s harder than it looks and if you do it right, it doesn’t save all that much money,” Napolitano told about 500 policy and education experts at a speaker series sponsored by the Public Policy Institute of California….

Online courses may indeed prove to be useful, she said, but more as a way to augment upper-division work for students who are already deeply engaged in their subject matter.

Let the people who have already learned how to learn learn online. Give all the students who don’t know how to learn yet the attention they deserve. More importantly, let them get all the attention that they can get in a classroom setting before you give them the option of entering the brave old world of online education. When online education at all levels of instruction becomes the only option for the vast majority of students, higher education will have failed us all.

Reinventing the wheel here is hardly a pedagogical imperative. It’s not even a financial imperative, since (as Napolitano points out) online education doesn’t really save universities all that much money. Just because you can teach students online doesn’t mean you should teach students online, especially in massive open online courses that offer no individual attention at all unless students win a lottery or beg for it.

When all is said and done it’s not the teacher/student relationship that’s broken. What’s broken is the political economy of higher education that has convinced some people to consider even the worst forms of online education an imperative in the first place.





“You deserve a break today.”

10 03 2014

When I was in graduate school, I was both a member and a board member of the oldest graduate student union in the country, the good old TAA. The vast majority of TAA leaders came from three departments: History, English and Sociology. Some of that was an artifact of the size of those departments. My first-year graduate school cohort at Wisconsin had ninety people in it. [Thanks again for that, Bill Bowen.] Yet the flip side of that situation was in some ways more telling: You couldn’t find a scientist in our union if you had put one on the Most Wanted List and offered a $100,000 reward. We always figured it had to do with the quality of their aid packages. Well-paid workers seldom join unions.

Want to know how bad things have gotten at CSU-Pueblo? The scientists here are at the forefront of the faculty’s fight to save the university from whatever the administration has in store for us. I think a lot of this has to do with the unilateral imposition of a 4-4 load. While I teach both undergraduate and graduate research methods courses, a lot of our science professors actually do their research with their students. Doing this, as I understand from what I’ve been told lately, is an absolutely vital part of what it means to be an advanced chemistry or biology major.* It’s as if our administration has told the scientists here to either work twice as hard or stop doing an absolutely vital part of their teaching duties entirely. I certainly understand why neither option is particularly appealing.

While I’ve already shown you the amazing letter that David Dillon sent our campus, I still think that nobody has done more for our cause than Bill Brown from Physics. I’m going to offer up a long quote from a letter to the editor that our local paper published yesterday because I think this applies (at least in the abstract) to so many of us everywhere:

Professors only work 10 or 12 hours per week in front of classes — so thought and said by many. Therefore, the reasoning goes that they are slackers who are highly paid and who work much less than others who have “real” jobs. When financial ills arise, then they must be made to work more to fix problems they had no fault in creating.

I would like to dispel some of these faulty ideas and to suggest what the results likely will be if this scenario is implemented with the entire faculty forced to work 4-4 teaching loads at Colorado State University-Pueblo.

I must confess that I suffered under the misconception that teaching required only a few hours. I spent the majority of my career as an engineer in the aerospace business. I was excited to come to academia and believed that my new teaching career would be almost like semi-retirement.

Little did I know what realities lay ahead. I was quickly awakened to the fact that teaching in front of classes is only a tiny part of being a professor. Here are just a few of the other things I learned that I must do.

Unlike many universities, we do not have teaching assistants at CSU-Pueblo and must do all of our own grading of homework and exams in classes sometimes as large as 85 students. I must prepare exams and homework assignments. I spend a huge amount of time preparing for classes. This entails writing notes to be used and then making them available to students.

There is a lot of bookkeeping when it comes to recording and correcting student grades for all assignments and classes.

I serve on and prepare for many committees that meet regularly that better the university and student welfare. I was a faculty senator for four years. I answer many emails sent by students and other faculty members. At the request of students, I have written many letters of recommendation for admission to medical, pharmaceutical and graduate schools.

Every year, we must submit to the College of Science and Mathematics a long, detailed report for our annual performance reviews.

I advise students about careers and what to expect when they graduate. I supervise the research of senior students and prepare them for their presentations before they graduate. I serve on master’s degree committees for students in the engineering department. I manage the CSU-Pueblo observatory that I built from the ground up after receiving a $200,000 grant. This entails scheduling, repairs, maintenance and public viewings.

I spend time preparing for department reviews that come every five years. As part of my outreach to the community, I am the vice president of the Southern [Colorado] Astronomical Society, which also requires many meetings and events. There are many phone calls and text messages I field from the public.

Another thing I do for outreach to the community is to prepare and deliver lectures of interest. I have done this at the Southern Colorado Astronomical Society, service clubs in the Pueblo area, other schools such as Otero Community College and the Coalition of Professional Engineers of Pueblo.

I offer six hours per week of office hours for students to come for help. I have written many proposals for in-house grants to update our computer lab, to provide tools for our astronomy program and to update the observatory. Then I spend whatever time is left to continue my research on cosmic rays and lightning.

But wait! The State of Colorado pays him to work, doesn’t it? What makes his job different from any other job? Bill has a very good answer to those questions:

In the aerospace business, I worked 40 hours per week and had weekends off. Now that is not the case. I used to receive regular raises and used to make two to three times my current salary.

Perhaps you still have no sympathy for us “spoiled” professorial types, but let’s talk about a basic rule of industrial relations, shall we? If you work anyone too hard for low pay, they will no longer sing and dance for you on cue. Now will they perform nearly as well at their jobs as they might have done otherwise. Perhaps the floors of your McDonald’s will not be so clean. Perhaps the cashiers will have a harder time greeting customers with a smile. Perhaps the quality of the food will suffer too. If you simply tell your forlorn workers to do more with less, this might actually make this situation worse. If that happens, your customers might just flee as fast as their feet can carry them.

As good as Bill’s letter is, I would add that professors – like all other workers – also deserve time for leisure and to spend with their families. The old slogan of the eight hour day movement in the United States was, “Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what we will.” Jesus, I’d settle for half that last one on most days.

Hey Academia! You deserve a break today. I’d argue that you’ll actually work more productively the rest of the time as a result.

* If any scientists out there reading this are slapping their foreheads right now and saying something like, “Welcome to the party, pal!,” cut me some slack, OK? I filled my science requirements as an undergrad with nothing but Psychology and Anthropology courses.





“I walk the line.”

4 03 2014

Here’s a little-known fact about me: I used to be a Walmart blogger. That blog is still updated occasionally by my friend Jeff in Cleveland, but a few years back I came to the decision that I could do more to help my own profession through blogging than I could the Walmart workers of the world (although they all still have my general support). Yet that experience was hardly a total bust. For one thing, it explains why I’m a vegetarian. It also explains why I once talked on the phone with the British journalist Simon Head.

I don’t remember exactly why he contacted me. I think I had written something about Walmart that implied that I knew more than I really did. What he ended up doing is schooling me on the evils of Walmart’s computerized scheduling system. The long and short of it is that Walmart schedules its workers on the basis of when its computer system predicts that customers will be in the store. If there aren’t enough people there to justify paying you, then you stay home. To make matters worse, Walmart demands that its employees be on call for work at any shift, any time, thereby making other jobs (or even going to school) that much more difficult. Since Head first wrote about that system, it’s become absolutely commonplace in workplaces of all kinds. It’s one very important reason why so many cheap employers today can employ all part-time workers and not be understaffed.

Head has a new book out now, Mindless: Why Smarter Machines Are Making Humans Dumber. You may have seen an excerpt from it about Amazon in Salon last month. I’ve read the whole thing now, and I can tell you it’s almost certainly going to be the most important book I’ll read all year. In essence, it is an update on Head’s earlier work on Walmart. Rather than just use the computer to dictate when your employer needs you to work, technology is now powerful enough for management to use it to dictate exactly how workers do their jobs. For example, here’s a bit from that excerpt about what Amazon warehouse workers do all day:

Amazon’s system of employee monitoring is the most oppressive I have ever come across and combines state-of-the-art surveillance technology with the system of “functional foreman,” introduced by Taylor in the workshops of the Pennsylvania machine-tool industry in the 1890s. In a fine piece of investigative reporting for the London Financial Times, economics correspondent Sarah O’Connor describes how, at Amazon’s center at Rugeley, England, Amazon tags its employees with personal sat-nav (satellite navigation) computers that tell them the route they must travel to shelve consignments of goods, but also set target times for their warehouse journeys and then measure whether targets are met.

All this information is available to management in real time, and if an employee is behind schedule she will receive a text message pointing this out and telling her to reach her targets or suffer the consequences. At Amazon’s depot in Allentown, Pennsylvania (of which more later), Kate Salasky worked shifts of up to eleven hours a day, mostly spent walking the length and breadth of the warehouse. In March 2011 she received a warning message from her manager, saying that she had been found unproductive during several minutes of her shift, and she was eventually fired. This employee tagging is now in operation at Amazon centers worldwide.

If you read Head’s entire book, you’ll see that these same principles are now being applied to white-collar jobs of all kinds. Work with a computer, you may be subject to this kind of Taylorism no matter what your particular income level happens to be.

In the book, Head notes the effect of this kind of management system on British universities. Unfortunately, he does not go the extra step of reporting (or even just predicting) the effect that these kinds of programs might have upon teachers involved in online education. Nevertheless, the implications should be obvious. Teach online and your every interaction – heck your every keystroke – is subject to scrutiny if you use a system that your employer controls. I’m not saying this is happening now everywhere, but it is easy to imagine that this will be happening somewhere soon. Even the best online educators will be subject to this kind of scrutiny if their employers care more about efficiency than they do about education.

Can this really happen? Well, look at MOOCs. Here’s Jim Groom, reviewing some recent history in that area:

MOOCs, as Siemens and Downes imagined them, are one of the few sources of true innovation you can point to in educational technology in recent history, and it was born from a higher ed/government relationship. Yet, within a couple of years the MOOC movement had become increasingly denatured and over-run by corporate boosterism that was redirecting the logic of experimentation and possibility to a rhetoric of how broken higher education is, and how Silicon Valley (poaching superstar faculty from Stanford with the allure of million of dollars) has come to its rescue. What was remarkable to me as I watched the MOOC experiment transform into a corporate takeover was how quickly and completely the alien pods took over the experimentation before it could breath. before it could even develop it was already a fully formed disruptive solution to a moribund institution. Innovation lost.

As I know I once read Marc Bousquet write somewhere, many universities admire the for-profit online approach and have rushed into it not to improve education, but to improve their own bottom lines. You may be convinced your online class is the best online class that can be given online (and it might very well be better than a lot of in-person lecture-only classes at giant state universities), but how long will your employer let you keep teaching it in the inefficient way that you’re teaching it now? I’m not saying this disaster is going to befall every online instructor, but it will certainly befall some of them as budgets grow tighter in higher education worldwide. The question then becomes, “Where will the line between the lucky and the unlucky get drawn?”

I’ve started to feel as if I walk that line every day. Our recent troubles here with our research downloads has reminded me that nothing lasts forever. This is particularly true for those of us who work at universities with administrations that do not value what skilled faculty bring to the educational table. If I am not swept up in a wave of digitization that will allow my job to be Taylorized, the CSU-System could still simply invest its resources in creating new campuses where a surveillance state can be constructed at birth.

As longtime readers know, I keep a close watch on this job of mine. I keep my eyes wide open all the time. But what happens if this kind of vigilance makes no difference?





What’s going on at CSU-Pueblo?, Part 9.

1 03 2014

“Staff and faculty members continued to question if CSU System Chancellor Michael Martin has respect for the institution.

They told [Colorado State University Board of Governors chairwoman Dorothy] Horrell that Martin has insulted students and demonstrated contempt for the community and the university, an accusation Martin has denied several times.”

- Anthony A. Mestas, “CSU-Pueblo System chair talks budget,” Pueblo Chieftain, March 1, 2014.

***





“I liked this blog much better when he only wrote about MOOCs.”

25 02 2014

Speaking of our provost, David Dillon of our chemistry department sent this letter to the President, cc’ing every employee on campus, early yesterday evening:

Now, you may wonder how such a thing is even possible. How can one person e-mail an entire campus? I explained this in the comments at Historiann’s place at one point, but I might as well do it now in plain sight. Here at CSU-Pueblo, almost every e-mail distribution list is open for almost anybody to use. [Until a few years ago, even students could e-mail the entire campus.] That’s why my inbox fills up regularly with pitches for every single event on campus, Blackboard updates and even messages from the mail room looking for somebody who has a package addressed to them whom they can’t identify.

Usually, this is not a major problem, but Tim McGettigan hit the distribution lists hard right before they took his privileges away. When you read that his e-mail has been partially restored, what that means is that he can use the Internet again but he can’t access the distribution lists anymore.

In the run up to Tim’s fifteen minutes of fame, I actually expected the administration to crack down on him for his use of the distribution lists. Instead, they cracked down on him for the CONTENT of his message. By doing so, they not only restricted his academic freedom, they implicitly endorsed the notion of faculty sending policy messages that can’t be misconstrued as violent to the entire campus, an invitation which Professor Dillon accepted last night (and of course the inevitable “reply all” conversation has continued into this morning).

PS I know what you’re thinking: “I liked this blog much better when he only wrote about MOOCs.” Well, I promise I’ll get to them again soon. Hopefully, this space won’t turn into the academic equivalent of disaster porn before I get around to it.





Higher education is not available à la carte.

24 02 2014

Perhaps you saw this piece of clickbait from NPR’s Planet Money team last week? It’s called, “Duke: $60,000 A Year For College Is Actually A Discount” and it follows a familiar format: some people say this, other people say that, but – this being a Planet Money piece – they’ll tell you what’s really going on at the end of the report.

For reasons I don’t really understand, the reporter became fixated on the costs of doing academic research in the sciences. I guess this might seem particularly shocking to those not in the know:

Jennifer West is a professor of bioengineering and materials science with a long list of publications, awards and titles. To hire West away from Rice University, money wasn’t enough. She came with an entourage. “I moved a whole entire research group with me, so I had to move a lot of people and then we had to move a lot of our equipment and rebuild our lab,” she says. “They actually sent architects to Rice who looked at our lab facilities there, then used that information to go back and design the facility that would work for us at Duke.”

West is not alone. Duke pays what it calls “startup costs” for a lot of professors, particularly in the sciences.

How much of that was paid for by government grants? How much of those costs were paid for by private companies? Certainly, with less support for higher education in general, a lot of what used to get paid for these ways is now being subsidized by tuition, but why is this a bad thing if the research is valuable to society?

The answer to that last question depends upon selfish individualism. Here’s the sound of the other shoe dropping:

Charles Schwartz, a retired professor from the University of California, Berkeley, who has been studying university finances for the past 20 years, takes issue with this way of accounting. He says it’s unfair to place the financial cost of professors like Jennifer West, who spend most of their time in the lab, on undergraduate students. “It’s just wrong to bundle all those costs together,” he says.

But how exactly are you going to pull those costs apart? If I were to underpay my taxes and write, “Please understand that the underpayment here is to avoid my having to pay for building those nuclear bombs that I don’t really support,” they’d lock me away. Or suppose I’m a racist. I don’t want to support African American Studies because I don’t believe it’s valuable. Can I withhold the portion of my tuition that goes to that? Of course not because, like government, higher education forces you to subsidize the whole hog because that’s the only way the whole thing works.

Don’t get me wrong. I think $60,000/year for a Duke education is ridiculously overpriced, but the implicit notion in that Planet Money report that students should be able to buy higher education à la carte is completely ridiculous. Why not do away with all graduation requirements then? After all, if I’m going to be a CS major why should I have to learn a foreign language? What good is a history requirement to a nursing major? A lot, of course, but this is the road down which this kind of consumerism will take us.

***

If I sound unduly sympathetic to Duke University’s ludicrously-high tuition, it’s probably because of a meeting with our Provost that I attended last Thursday. You might remember that during his first all-faculty meeting, our Provost joked that we faculty members only worked three days per week. This meeting went better than that one at first. For a while, it was actually valuable.

The first thing he did was report on the last meeting of our Board of Governors. Apparently, he told the assembled professors, they hate you all. Why? He wasn’t exactly sure, but he didn’t have to tell us. A copy of an e-mail from Chancellor Michael Martin to nobody in particular was circulating from faculty member to faculty member in the days leading up to the meeting. Here’s the part that contains the big tell:

“I would note that CSU-Pueblo students are currently paying fulltime faculty salaries for faculty not working fulltime…Participating in Denver South could relieve some of this unproductive burden on students.”

That’s why every last single professor on campus with out administrative duties or grant money has to teach an extra course starting next semester. We’re “unproductive.”

But, in fact, we’re not. You see, the only reason that faculty are not currently teaching the optimum number of courses by Chancellor Martin’s estimation is that policies exist in our handbook that allow faculty members to get release time for research. The vast majority of us (myself included) teach three courses each semester because we actually do research. Chancellor Martin wants to unbundle that function from our job description so that students won’t have top pay for it.

Unfortunately, even this financial justification for this policy doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. During our meeting with the provost, somebody (OK, it was me) pressed him about how exactly faculty losing their research release time actually saves money. The first thing he mentioned was that faculty with higher loads will replace the $290,000 worth of adjunct faculty that we’re in the process firing. Of course, that’s a pittance in the overall university budget. Nevertheless, my fellow tenured and tenure-track colleagues, never forget that the ability to hire someone to do the only part of their your job that an administrator cares about at a fraction of what you cost is a constant threat to your employment and your quality of life.

But the provost admitted that that small scrap of money wasn’t the real motive. During my portion of the conversation with the provost, I proposed the following scenario: Imagine two identical courses with the same professor teaching both, fifteen people in each of them, but the room holds thirty. Can we cancel one section and merge the class? After all, it wouldn’t cost any money. No, the provost said, because that would be political suicide. Yes, they’re making us teach a 4-4 because the Board of Governors of the Colorado State System doesn’t think we work hard enough, not because it does anything for the budget or anything for education. Still no word on whether they feel the same way about Fort Collins.

It’s enough to make you nihilistic, don’t you think?

***

Last week, Bob Casale of Devo died. Coincidentally, I was teaching Jeff Cowie’s Stayin’ Alive in my 1945-Present class. The book is about the death of the working class during the 1970s, and it’s quite wonderful in large part (but not exclusively) because of it’s many astute cultural references. While I was surprised that my students had never heard of Archie Bunker (who I had thought of as a kind of Mickey Mouse-style cultural icon), I knew that I was going to have to tell them about Devo. That’s right, Cowie explains the politics of Devo.

If you haven’t read the book, to save time I’ll just tell you that those politics revolve around nihilism. Yeah, I missed that too when I was in high school, but really the politics are there. Here’s the video I picked to illustrate Devo’s philosophy:

This is the key lyric, at least for me:

In ancient Rome there was a poem
About a dog who found two bones
He picked at one
He licked the other
He went in circles
He dropped dead

You just know that Mark Mothersbaugh had OD’ed on Milton Friedman by the time he wrote those words. In the video, there are two guys dressed as Caligula, one holding this dude in a cheap dog suit by a leash. To me, this sounds like the perfect metaphor for cheap higher education. Freedom of choice? In fact, when both choices are bad you get no real choice at all.

Why are both choices bad? That depends upon who exactly is holding the leash. Here’s Planet Money again (this was their snide little aside at the end of the story about which position you should actually believe):

If you’re engaged in research and capitalizing on your professors’ expertise, maybe you’re getting something that’s worth more than what you paid. If you’ve got a good financial aid package, you’re definitely getting a good deal. But if you’re a full-paying student, who’s not learning much from professors outside the classroom, it’s the university that’s getting the deal.

But rip faculty research out of the equation and the quality of the entire product will suffer. Take me, for instance. I teach a research methods class for both undergrads and graduate students. Don’t you think I’ll do that better if I actually have time to do research? More importantly, if Duke students are willing to pay $60,000/year to have access to faculty who do actual research, what does this tell you about the quality of higher education at an institution where professors don’t have time to do any research at all?

Any notion that higher education is available à la carte is a complete illusion. Behind Door #1 is austerity. Behind Door #2 is more austerity. There is no Door #3.

What too few of us understand is that faculty are facing the same rotten choices that our students now get. Faced with numerous vocal complaints about our pending 4-4, the provost told us that you make time to do what you love. That comment was met by the loudest series of groans I’ve ever heard from all over the room. Oddly enough, while workers during the 1970s may have forgotten their class consciousness, professors at CSU-Pueblo seem to be discovering theirs again.





What’s going on at CSU-Pueblo, Part 8.

16 02 2014

“As part of the budget plan, professors will be required to teach four courses in the spring semester and four courses in the fall semester.

“On this new 4-4 plan some of us would go from teaching nine (credit) hours a semester to 12 hours a semester and as a result, we would be paid the same small amount,” [Associate Professor of Physics William] Brown said.

“If you do the math it turns out that we would be getting a 25 percent pay reduction.”

Brown said the school’s managers, who he said were responsible for the budget crisis, are not taking pay cuts.

“I don’t know why we as faculty members and teachers, who have had no part whatsoever in this financial problem, why we should have to pay the primary price,” Brown said.”

- Anthony A. Mestas, “Prof takes aim at staff managers,” Pueblo Chieftain, February 16, 2014.





Man bites dog: I feel sorry for business professors.

4 02 2014

Here at CSU-Pueblo, my building sits next to the Hassan School of Business. The business professors work in a much nicer building than mine. Unlike mine, their offices have windows. Every one of them (even the assistants), all make more money than I do. I understand how labor markets work. Those folks have to be paid more otherwise the private sector would swoop them up. Nevertheless, I’ve never quite understood why the pay gap between us has to be quite as big as it is.

Yet do you want to know how bad things are here at CSU-Pueblo right now? I feel sorry for our business professors.

Business and nursing are the two programs from our university that are participating in the first stages of Colorado State University’s South Denver campus. I just talked to our Dean of Nursing. Their Nursing Completion Program there will be staffed by new hires in the South Denver area. The Business faculty, on the other hand, had to submit their CVs to Fort Collins so that they can decide which of them has to commute up north. Yes, you read that right. CSU-Pueblo business faculty will be forced to commute to Denver at least twice a week. On a good day, that’s two hours each way. On a bad day (which means you hit rush hour), it’s much worse. Don’t even start with me on what happens when it’s snowing.

Like the rest of us, the business professors (at least in theory) have to teach a 4-4 starting next year. This is going to be the “4″ for many of those professors. Has anybody decided who’s paying for their gas? No. Has anybody decided on who’s actually paying their salaries (since this is a Fort Collins controlled program)? No. Has anybody decided whether these people will be compensated for their travel time? No. I was just talking to a colleague over in business. Apparently, they were told this was coming a year ago and then told to “make it happen.” They’ve received no other guidance at all.

If anybody reading this works for a journalistic organization that would like to do a story on this, please let me know. I can forward you some e-mails. I can’t guarantee they’ll all talk on the record, but I’ll bet you anything they’ll talk. These folks are even angrier than the rest of us around here, and the sad thing is that they have every right to be.





The Real Financial Situation at CSU-Pueblo

3 02 2014

Jonathan Rees:

Heaven help us, I’ve gotten editorial privileges at the AAUP Colorado Conference blog!

Originally posted on :

One of the strategies that the CSU-Pueblo AAUP chapter has employed during the recent budget crisis there is to make requests under the Colorado Open Records Act (or CORA) to try to get a better understanding of their university’s true budget picture.  Is this budget crisis contrived or is it real?  If it’s real, is the real cause of that crisis too many employees?

Below are a few e-mails released in response to those requests that begin to answer some of these questions, but which raise many more.  These e-mails do suggest that Chancellor Michael Martin saw budget problems at the school long before the current crisis began in December, Dean Roy Sonnema of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences told his department chairs that President Lesley Di Mare told him that the Chancellor was “requiring” the current round of cuts.

If the budget situation at CSU-Pueblo is really…

View original 74 more words








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