Clinton’s not exactly brilliant plan on addressing costs in higher ed

There was an article in Inside Higher Ed the other day about presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s “innovation” plan for helping to address costs in higher education. I am sure there is a lot more to this than what IHE was able to summarize, but here’s part of what IHE said:

The plan proposes $10 billion in federal funding (a significant amount in tight budget times, no matter who wins the election) for students to enroll in vetted boot camps, coding academies, massive open online courses and other programs run by alternative education providers, as well as providing unspecified rewards for colleges that accept those programs as credit toward graduation.

For entrepreneurs, the plan proposes letting them and potentially their first 10 to 20 employees defer payments on their student loans, penalty-free, for up to three years “as they work through the critical start-up phase of new enterprises.” Entrepreneurs whose start-ups serve “distressed communities” or “provide measurable social impact and benefit” will after five years be able to apply to have up to $17,500 of their loans forgiven.

There’s also a big emphasis on STEM programs, education toward jobs, etc., etc.

I think Alexander Holt has a nice follow-up column to this, also in Inside Higher Ed, “Clinton’s Giveaway to Silicon Valley.” Among other things, Holt points out that more STEM training isn’t automatically “the solution” since there is some evidence that there is actually a larger supply of STEM trained would-be employees than jobs, that the status quo already has loan deferment plans along the lines of what Clinton is proposing, and the last group of students who college students who need financial help from the government is would-be entrepreneurs. To quote:

If Clinton wants to give away money to people who will eventually be wealthy, this proposal is a great idea. People working in tech start-ups will likely go on to earn a fairly high income in life. If a young entrepreneur has a degree from a good school and highly valuable skills, she can still get a high-paying job even if the company fails. If her company succeeds, she will eventually have a lot of money.

And just to add: for the most part, Clinton’s plan to help entrepreneurs is not going to help most of the students we have at Eastern. Most/many of our students are from working class/working poor backgrounds and they are often first generation college students. These students are getting college degrees to get a foothold into the middle-class. Sure, some of our students have Silicon Valley-like savvy and the desire to start their own businesses, but the vast majority of our students are trying to get into an already existing field and business. The same probably goes for most students at most universities, actually.

But speaking specifically about MOOCs and alternative providers: Clinton (and whoever she is listening to on this) is just flat-out ignoring how higher education works. I’ve blogged about this many many times before, and I don’t think I’m saying anything particularly new or controversial. To sum up:

  • MOOCs and professional training enterprises (like Lynda.com) are mostly useful to adults who already have college degrees and jobs who are seeking additional training and credentials, and particularly training and credentials in IT related fields. Traditionally-aged (18-21 year olds, more or less) would-be college students are interested in a degree program, not miscellaneous classes that they cobble together from various MOOCs and “boot camps.” This is why MOOCs have been pivoting to the adult/corporate training market and away from the higher education market.
  • While everyone agrees that college is too expensive and that the costs should be contained, the solution is not to offer cheaper and largely unproven alternatives. Rather, the solution (IMO) is to look at all of the alternatives that already exist. Unlike in a lot of parts of the world, in the U.S. we have hundreds of community colleges and regional universities (like EMU) that are geographically accessible.
  • Furthermore, (as I’ve blogged about before too), while the costs of attendance obviously matters to traditional college students and their families, it is only one factor students make about where to go to college, and it’s usually not the most important choice. The Higher Education Research Institute has been surveying first year students for fifty years, and in answer to the question about what was “very important” in their decision about where to attend college, cost consistently runs behind “the college has a very good academic reputation” and “the college’s graduates get good jobs,” and it is almost tied with “the college has a good reputation for its social activities.” If cost was the most important reason for why students decide to go where they go, Washtenaw Community College would have to turn down a significant percentage of the students who applied and the University of Michigan would be begging people to think about going there. In short, the solutions being proposed– making higher education cheaper– doesn’t address the real problem, which is access to high quality higher education.
  • To the extent that MOOCs are going to be useful for students earning college credit, it is most likely going to be for things like the College Level Examination Program (aka CLEP tests), advanced placement, or for various “experience-based” degrees and credits. For example, Georgia Tech has an Online Masters of Computer Science program that is running more or less as a MOOC. As I understand it, a lot of the students in this program are IT people who are well-versed in the kinds of things they are studying.The students enrolled in this program are there not so much to “learn new things;” they are there to prove to a credential-providing institution that they already know these things. That’s all fine and good, but it isn’t going to help the 18 to 20 year old looking for experience in the first place.
  • While the dropout rates in MOOCs might mean a lot of different things, one thing is for sure: students who successfully start and complete a MOOC for credit have an unusually high level of self-motivation and ability to work independently. Most traditional college students are not like this. Actually, most everyone is not like this.

Now, if Hillary et al were to call me and ask for my ideas, the first thing I would suggest is that they look around them to the solutions that exist in the form of accessible community colleges and regional universities like EMU. In theory, I’m for a system where students can attend universities like EMU for free, though in practice, I worry about the strings that would be attached to that kind of program by the Feds (as if Institutional Assessment of various flavors wasn’t bad enough). Besides, it’s a fantasy to think that Hillary (or Bernie, for that matter) can wave a magic wand and make that happen over night.

What could happen more easily (maybe?) is the Feds could boost the amount of money going into the Pell Grant program, they could ease the restrictions on how students can use that money (let them go to summer school, for example), and they could roll back the cost of student loans to either zero points interest or the same as the prime rate. There is absolutely no reason why the Federal government ought to be making any money off of its student loan program.

But then again, no one asked me, so….

Posted in Academia, MOOCs, Scholarship, The Happy Academic | Leave a comment

EMU attempts to cut costs by focusing on the little things and ignoring the obvious problems (you know, like football)

Everyone at EMU received an email from interim president Don Loppnow with the subject line “Campus message: Dining services,” but what I really think this message is about is the title I have for this post. In the nutshell, one of the “budgeting by a thousand tiny cuts” measures the EMU administration has decided to take is to outsource dining services. The talk of this has been going on for quite a while now, so this is hardly a surprise.

I have to say I’m confused by the potential benefits of all this. Loppnow’s email claims that everyone that EMU now employs in dining services will remain an EMU employee in dining services with the same contracts and what-not. Plus an outside vendor will bring in all kinds of new food options– food trucks!– and do all sorts of renovations to dining halls and all of that. Well, where’s the cost savings then? It sounds more like an act of creative bookkeeping combined with a willingness on EMU’s part to give whatever outside vendor the profits from their food truck et al enterprises.

I guess what I’m saying is I don’t completely disagree with the administration’s move to outsource this stuff and there are a lot of other institutions like EMU that already do this– though Michigan prisons outsourced their food options too, and that’s worked out not so great. EMU claims an outside vendor will invest “millions” in upgrades over the course of the contract, however long that might be. But again, this move doesn’t seem like much of a budget cut in the sense of actually “saving” money; in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyplace where the administration has given an actual dollar figure on how much money EMU saves in this move.

Anyway, here’s the passage of the email (I include all of it below) that I initially skimmed past that made me spit up my coffee when I read it again this morning:

It is important to note that Eastern’s overarching institutional priority is to provide our students with a solid educational and research experience – one that will lead to successful careers upon graduation. While our current food services operation and employees do an excellent job, food services is simply not the University’s core mission. Educating students is.

LOL! LOL!LOL!LOL!LOL!LOL!LOL!LOL!LOL!LOL!LOL!LOL!LOL!LOL!LOL!LOL!LOL! LOL!LOL!LOL!LOL! LOL!LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL! LOL!

ROTFLMAO!

Hmm, I wonder what other things EMU spends too much money on that is clearly not a part of our institution’s mission to provide students with a solid educational and research experience? Who else is doing an “excellent job” but is doing work that is simply not a part of our core mission?

Jeesh.

Look, if EMU wants to outsource dining services because they think we’ll get better food for slightly less cost for us (and obviously a big profit for whatever vendor wins the contract) and if everyone actually does keep their jobs, then I have to say I’m ambivalent. The EMU-AAUP’s argument has been that dining services people will end up losing their jobs and/or not be in a bargaining unit anymore and it will result in lower quality food, the administration’s argument is the opposite. Both of these arguments are predictions.

However, a) there is absolutely no way that the overall budget savings from this plan are going to make a difference in dealing with out of control spending from sports, and b) while dining services might not be a part of the “University’s core mission,” it’s a hell of a lot closer to that mission than football.

Continue reading

Posted in EMU, EMU-AAUP | 1 Comment

A Candy Bar Explanation of My Ambivalence of Clinton v. Sanders

As I write this post, the news is that Bernie Sanders is meeting with Barack Obama to (I guess) come up with an elegant way to exit the race to be the Democratic nominee for president, a race he’s pretty much lost to Hilary Clinton. Soon we will all be able to move on.

Frankly, I’ve felt quite ambivalent about the process. While I know many people (mostly indirectly and on social media) who had a religious and fanatic devotion to Bernie Sanders and/or a burning white-hot hatred of Hilary Clinton, I felt and continue to feel unusually ambivalent. I’m okay with either of them and have been all along. I voted for Clinton in the Michigan primary, but I was totally okay with the fact that Sanders won it. If the conversation right now was about how Sanders had pulled off the political upset to win the nomination, totally fine with me.

So the whole social media phenomenon of things like #iguessimwithher or the sentiment summed up in this excellent post at Good Bad Librarian! “I’m With Her (But We’re Seeing Other People)” or pretty much a third or more of my Facebook/Twitter feed for the last several months– this whole thing has been hard for me to understand and hard for me to explain.

And then it hit me: from my point of view, Clinton and Sanders are each a half of a Twix bar.

Surly you have heard of this candy bar (not necessarily my “go to” choice, but one I always enjoy), but just in case: as Wikipedia reminds us, Twix “is a chocolate bar made by Mars, Inc., consisting of biscuit applied with other confectionery toppings and coatings (most frequently caramel and milk chocolate). Twix bars are packaged in pairs, although smaller single bars are available.”

And surly you have seen the humorous commercials about the battles between “Left Twix” and “Right Twix.” The basic premise here is the two “inventors” of Twix split the company over vehement disagreements over what is actually nothing. “Left Twix flowed caramel on cookie, while Right Twix cascaded caramel on cookie,” and so forth. The comedy, obviously, is in the fact that the differences being observed between Right and Left Twix are non-existent.

So for me, that’s pretty much the Sanders v. Clinton debate. Though I am certain there are those who might read this and say I WILL NEVER EVER EVER VOTE FOR RIGHT TWIX AND THAT DAMN LEFT TWIX RIGGED THE PROCESS FROM THE BEGINNING.

Or is it Right Twix who did the rigging? I forget.

Posted in Fun, Politics | Leave a comment

In which I recall a less serious time when a small child wandered off

The case of the child wandering into the enclosure for Harambe the gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo brought back the memory of the time when Annette and I lost Will at the mall.

He was somewhere around two and a half or three years old. For some reason (I cannot remember why now), we thought it was a good idea to get a proper little kid portrait of him done at JC Penney. I believe we were there in the morning on a slow day in the summer, and I recall we were early for our appointment. So we had to keep Will entertained for the fifteen/twenty minutes, and we did this by chasing him around the mostly empty store. Will ducked into/underneath a circular rack of shirts or something on hangers, Annette and I ran around opposite sides of the clothing rack, and he popped out the other side, laughing hysterically. Simple, goofy fun. We repeated this routine at least three or four times.

Then he vanished. I mean completely, like that Vegas-styled magic trick where they drop the curtain and there’s nothing there. Nothing.

As I recall it now, I felt a mix of panic and disbelief– panic for the obvious reasons, disbelief because he literally vanished. Annette and I frantically searched the nearby clothing racks yelling WILL! WILL! WILL!, and generally freaked out. We got a hold of some kind of manager and told her what was going on, and as I think about it now, her reaction was reasonable to the point where this had almost certainly happened before. There was some kind of announcement about a lost child and we continued to look for him.

Then we found him– I think it was actually Annette who found him– outside the mall entrance of JC Penney’s. He was standing and carefully examining a kiosk that was selling mini aquariums that contained very small and colorful frogs. As I believe Annette recalls it, she said something to him like “OH MY GOD, WILL, YOU RAN OFF! DON’T EVER DO THAT AGAIN!” and Will’s reaction was something like “What’s the big deal? I wanted to look at the frogs.”

And after we all collected ourselves, we had Will’s portrait photo made:

TinyWill

(At least that’s my memory of this– maybe Annette and Will will have slightly different takes on this).

In any event, filtering this back to the current story about killing a gorilla/”bad” parenting/bad kids:

  • It’s sad, but it kind of sounds like they had to shoot the gorilla. I’ve also heard that these kinds of incidents of people getting inside enclosures or animals getting out are obviously rare but not as uncommon as I for one would hope.
  • There was an interesting little piece in the New York Times, “Who Is to Blame When a Child Wanders at the Zoo?” which, among other things, points out that some kids are a lot more “wily” than others. (Not that Will was really like that– this is the one and only time he did something this wily). And this article also makes me wonder about some discussion about blaming this child– I mean, isn’t this the kind of action that suggests a certain level of intent and agency on his part?
  • I don’t blame the mother in this story, but it probably would help her case a bit if she had said something about how she messed up and she felt bad about what happened.
Posted in Family, Life | Leave a comment

A less than complete recap/blog post about #cwcon 2016

I was in Rochester, New York last weekend for the annual Computers and Writing Conference at St. John Fisher College. This was not my first rodeo. I think I have about 20 different presentations at probably about 12 different meetings, maybe more. I have a love/hate relationship with the conference. C&W will always have a place in my heart because it was the first conference where I ever presented– back in 1994– and maybe because of that (and also because I’ve always thought of it as the conference that most closely aligns with my research and teaching interests), I have found the whole thing kind of frustrating in recent years.

A better and more complete (albeit more chaotic) way to get a sense of what happened this year is to go to Twitter and search for #cwcon. I tried to make a Storify of all the tweets, but the limit is 1000, so I only was able to get tweets from Sunday and some of Saturday. If I get around to it, maybe I’ll make another Storify or two– unless there’s a better/easier way to capture all those tweets.

Anyway, a recap from my POV:

  • Bill Hart-Davidson and I drove there together. Bill and I have known each other since 1993 (he was on that panel with me at C&W in Columbia, Missouri back in 1994, and he claimed on this trip that Cindy Selfe either chaired our session or was in the audience, I can’t remember which) and we both like to talk a lot, so there and back was pretty much seven straight hours of the Bill and Steve talk show. It’s a good thing no one else was with us.
  • We got there Wednesday late in the afternoon and played a quick nine holes with Nick Carbone before meeting up with a bunch of Ride2CW and conference goers at a lovely place called Tap & Mallet.
  • Bill and I stayed in the dorms at St. John Fisher. Dorms are a staple of #cwcon, but this is the first time I’ve actually stayed in them mainly because ew, dorms. But given that the hotels for the conference were almost 10 miles away and St. John Fisher is small private college, we both opted for the calculated risk that these dorms would be okay. And that risk paid off, too. The only things missing from the room were a television and, oddly, a garbage can.
  • Bill ran a workshop Thursday, so I ended up hanging out with Doug Walls (soon to be faculty at NC State, congrats to him) for a lot of the day and then working on school stuff back in the garbage can-less dorm.
  • Had kind of a weird Friday morning because I woke up for no reason at 5 am or so, went back to sleep thinking that I’d wake up at 8-ish and I ended up sleeping until 10 am. So, with the morning of the first day of presentations thoroughly trashed, I went to the George Eastman Museum instead. Pretty cool, actually.
  • Friday afternoon, I saw some presentations– a good one from Alex Reid, and an interesting/odd session from some folks at East Carolina called “Object-Oriented Research Methods and Methodologies for Open, Participatory Learning” which was not at all what I was expecting. It ended up mostly being about using fortune tellers/cootie catchers as a sort of heuristic for writing research. Showed up a little late for a panel where Bradley Dilger and crew were talking about the Corpus & Repository of Writing project. Interestingly, there were a number of talks/presentations/workshops on methods for capturing and/or mining a lot of “big data” in writing– well, big for our field at least. What I didn’t see much of was what all this mining and corpus-building gets us. Maybe the results will come eventually.
  • Went to the banquet/awards/Grabill keynote. More on the awards thing in a moment, but to kick off the after-eating festivities, there was a tribute video to Cindy and Dickie Selfe who are retiring this year. The set-up for the banquet made watching the video pretty impossible, but it’s on YouTube and it’s definitely worth a watch. Both of them have been such giants in the field, and it really is a lovely send-off/tribute.
  • Jeff Grabill gave a good talk– it’s right here, actually. I think he thought that he was being more confrontational than he actual was, but that’s another story. Alex Reid has a good blog post about this and one of the other key things going this year at the conference, which has to do with what I think I would describe as a sort of question of naming and identity.
  • Speaking of which: my session was on Saturday morning. My presentation was about correspondence schools and how they foreshadow and/or set the groundwork for MOOCs. It was okay, I guess. It was a sort of mash-up version of a part of the first chapter/section of this book I’ve been working on for far too long (which is also one of the reasons why I’m not going to post it here for now) and I think it’s good stuff, but it wasn’t really that dynamic of a presentation. I ended up being paired up with Will Hochman, and his approach was much more of an interactive brainstorming session on trying to come up with a new name for the conference. I don’t know if we “solved” the problem or not, but it was a fun discussion. Lauren Rae Hall and she created a cool little conference name generator based on stuff we talked about.
  • Walls made me skip the lunch keynote to get pizza (twisted my arm, I tell you!) and then I went to the town hall session where Bill was on the panel. Alex Reid blogged a bit about this (and other things) in this post; while I suppose it was interesting, it was another example of a session that is advertised/intended as one where there is going to be a lot of audience discussion and where, after the many people on the panel all said their bits, we were pretty much out of time. And then we drove home.

So it was all good. Well done, St. John Fisher people! Though I can’t end this without beating the drum on three reoccurring themes for me, the hate dislike/grumpy side of me with #cwcon:

First, I think the work at reconsidering the name of the conference is perhaps symptomatic of the state of affairs with the general theme of the conference. “Computers and Writing” is a bit anachronistic since the definition of both “computers” and “writing” have been evolving, but it wouldn’t be the first name of an organization that seems out of date with what it is– the “Big Ten” with its 14 teams immediately comes to mind. So maybe the identity issues about the name of the conference have more to do with the fact that the subject of the conference is no longer a comparatively marginalized sub-discipline within composition and rhetoric.

Take that with a significant grain of salt. I was on a roundtable about the “end” of computers and writing in 2001 and we’re still chugging along. But that video honoring Cindy and Dickie Selfe featured some other senior members in the C&W community remembering the “old days” of the 1980s and even early 90s (really not that long ago, relatively speaking) when anyone in an English department working with a computer was considered a “freak.” Scholarship and teaching about technology and materiality (not to mention “multimodality” which often enough implies computers) might not be at the center of the field, but it’s not on the “lunatic fringes” of it anymore either. That’s good– it means folks like the Selfes were “right”– but it also makes #cwcon a little less “special.” I can go to the CCCCs and see lots of the same kinds of presentations I saw this last weekend, not to mention HASTAC.

Second, I really wish there was a way to hold this conference more regularly some place easy to get to. Rochester wasn’t bad (though still a regional airport), but in recent years, #cwcon has been in Menomonie, Wisconsin; Pullman, Washington; and Frostburg, Maryland. And next year, it’s going to be Findlay, Ohio, which is good for me because that’s only 90 miles away but not exactly easy for anyone planning on not driving there.

And third, there’s still the lack of basic infrastructure. As Bill and I discussed in our 14+ hours of car time, HASTAC specifically and Digital Humanities generally have their own organizational problems, but at least there are web sites and organizations out there. We’re a committee buried in a large subset (CCCCs) of an even larger organization (NCTE), and as far as a web site goes, um, no, not so much. During the many awards, I tweeted that it sure would be nice if there was a page of winners of various things posted somewhere. Someone who will remain nameless said it was all they could do to not tweet back something snarky about “where.”

If I get the time or energy to track that info down, I’ll post it here or somewhere else….

Posted in Academia, Computers and Writing, Digital Humanities, Travel | 4 Comments

Instead of banning laptops, what if we mandated them?

Oy. Laptops are evil. Again.

This time, it comes from “Leave It in the Bag,” an article in Inside Higher Ed, reporting on a study done by Susan Payne Carter, Kyle Greenberg, and Michael S. Walker, all economists at West Point (PDF). This has shown up on the WPA-L mailing list and in my various social medias as yet another example of why technology in the classrooms is bad, but I think it’s more complicated than that.

Mind you, I only skimmed this and all of the economics math is literally a foreign language to me. But there are a couple of passages here that I find interesting and not exactly convincing to me that me and my students should indeed “leave it in the bag.”

For example:

Permitting laptops or computers appears to reduce multiple choice and short answer scores, but has no effect on essay scores, as seen in Panel D. Our finding of a zero effect for essay questions, which are conceptual in nature, stands in contrast to previous research by Mueller and Oppenheimer (2014), who demonstrate that laptop note-taking negatively affects performance on both factual and conceptual questions. One potential explanation for this effect could be the predominant use of graphical and analytical explanations in economics courses, which might dissuade the verbatim note-taking practices that harmed students in Mueller and Oppenheimer’s study. However, considering the substantial impact professors have on essay scores, as discussed above, the results in panel D should be interpreted with considerable caution. (page 17)

The way I’m reading this is for classes where students are expected to take multiple choice tests as a result of listening to a lecture from a sage on the stage, laptops might be bad. But in classes where students are supposed to write essays (or at least more conceptual essay questions), laptops do no harm. So if it’s a course where students are supposed to do more than take multiple choice tests….

After describing the overall effects of students performing worse when computing technology is available, Carter, Greenberg, and Walker write:

It is quite possible that these harmful effects could be magnified in settings outside of West Point. In a learning environment with lower incentives for performance, fewer disciplinary restrictions on distracting behavior, and larger class sizes, the effects of Internet-enabled technology on achievement may be larger due to professors’ decreased ability to monitor and correct irrelevant usage.” (page 26)

Hmmm…. nothing self-congratulatory about that passage, is there?

Besides the fact that there is no decent evidence that the students at West Point (or any other elite institution for that matter) are on the whole such special snowflakes that they are more immune from the “harm” of technology/distraction compared to the rest of us simpletons, I think one could just as easily make the exact opposite argument. It seems to me that is is “quite possible” that the harmful effects are more magnified in a setting like West Point because of the strict adherence to “THE RULES” and authority for all involved. I mean, it is the Army after all. Perhaps in settings where students have more freedom and are used to the more “real life” world of distractions, large class sizes, the need to self-regulate, etc., maybe those students are actually better able to control themselves.

And am I the only one who is noticing the extent to which laptop/tablet/technology use really seems to be about a professor’s “ability to monitor and correct” in a classroom? Is that actually “teaching?”

And then there’s this last paragraph in the text of the study:

We want to be clear that we cannot relate our results to a class where the laptop or tablet is used deliberately in classroom instruction, as these exercises may boost a student’s ability to retain the material. Rather, our results relate only to classes where students have the option to use computer devices to take notes.   We further cannot test whether the laptop or tablet leads to worse note taking, whether the increased availability of distractions for computer users (email, facebook, twitter, news, other classes, etc.) leads to lower grades, or whether professors teach differently when students are on their computers. Given the magnitude of our results, and the increasing emphasis of using technology in the classroom, additional research aimed at distinguishing between these channels is clearly warranted.(page 28)

First, laptops might or might not be useful for taking notes. This is at odds with a lot of these “laptops are bad” studies. And as a slight tangent, I really don’t know how easy it is to generalize about note taking and knowledge across large groups. Speaking only for myself: I’ve been experimenting lately with taking notes (sometimes) with paper and pen, and I’m not sure it makes much difference. I also have noticed that my ability to take notes on what someone else is saying — that is, as opposed to taking notes on something I want to say in a short speech or something– is now pretty poor. I suppose that’s the difference between being a student and being a teacher, and maybe I need to relearn how to do this from my students.

This paragraph also hints at another issue with all of these “laptops are bad” pieces, of “whether professors teach differently when students are on their computers.” Well, maybe that is the problem, isn’t it? Maybe it isn’t so much that students are spending all of this time being distracted by laptops, tablets, and cell-phones– that is, students are NOT giving professor the UNDIVIDED ATTENTION they believe (nay, KNOWS) they deserve. Maybe the problem is professors haven’t figured out that the presence of computers in classrooms means we have to indeed “teach differently.”

But the other thing this paragraph got me to thinking about the role of technology in the courses I teach, where laptops/tablets are “used deliberately in classroom instruction.” This paragraph suggests that the opposite of banning laptops might also be as true: in other words, what if, instead of banning laptops from a classroom, the professor mandated that students each have a laptop open at all times in order to take notes, to respond to on-the-fly quizzes from the professor, and look stuff up that comes up in the discussions?

It’s the kind of interesting mini-teaching experiment I might be able to pull off this summer. Of course, if we extend this kind of experiment to the realm of online teaching– and one of my upcoming courses will indeed be online– then we can see that in one sense, this isn’t an experiment at all. We’ve been offering courses where the only way students communicate with the instructor and with other students has been through a computer for a long time now. But the other course I’ll be teaching is a face to face section of first year writing, and thus ripe for this kind of experiment. Complicating things more (or perhaps making this experiment more justifiable?) is the likelihood that a significant percentage of the students I will have in this section are in some fashion “not typical” of first year writing at EMU– that is, almost all of them are transfer students and/or juniors or seniors. Maybe making them have those laptops open all the time could help– and bonus points if they’re able multitask with both their laptop and their cell phones!

Hmm, I see a course developing….

Posted in Academia, Computers, technology, etc., Internet, Technology, The Happy Academic | 3 Comments

“Up North” Vacation Haikus

We went to Glen Arbor
Stayed in a Homestead condo,
on Sleeping Bear Bay.

The condo (view from the lake)

Empty Beach With Annette

Off-season, we had
the complex and the beach to
ourselves. It was odd.

Cool, mostly sunny,
but so buggy with midges.
That is off-season.

Work station in Glen Arbor
Working outside meant
buggy gnatty midge bugs all
over my laptop.

Midges live two days
mating in grey swarms alight,
flying up my nose.

Sunset

View of Sleeping Bear Bay

Spooky view

Still, it is lovely,
the bay view always shifting,
shining, orange, blue, grey.

Empire Bluff Trail Selfie

We hiked the Bay View
Trail, Empire Bluffs, Cotton-
wood, Leelanau State Park Trails

How long were these hikes?
We don’t know, but none of the
markers were correct.

For example:

The sign said two miles
Three miles in, we discovered
It was more like five.

Amical and Chicken Pot Pie

blu Duck Confit No. 6534

Excellent eating:
Art’s, Amical, La Bécasse,
and, as always, Blu.

But with the condo
kitchen, we ate mostly at
home. Keeping it real.

It was beautiful
just hanging around the house,
watching Netflix, etc.

Annette Puzzles 1
An OCD dream
An Edward Gorey puzzle
with a thousand frogs.

Annette and I worked,
lots of writing and school stuff.
Class planning and more.

Will didn’t have work.
School was over, he was bored,
Played lots of video games.

Piles of work await
Naptime lures like siren song,
Behind but rested.

(Links to the Flickr set, and thanks to Annette for her haiku contributions).

Posted in Family, Fun, Life, Travel | Leave a comment

An Open Letter/Blog Post About Sports at EMU

Dear Interim President Loppnow, Incoming President Smith, members of the Board of Regents, Heather Lyke, and anyone else who is interested (not to mention everyone associated with EMU– students, faculty, staff, alumni, etc.– who thinks it is time to do something different with football specifically and athletics generally):

Hi, how’s it going? I’m fine, thanks.

Now that my winter semester is completely wrapped up and I’ve had a chance to catch my breath for a week or so, I thought I’d take a moment and respond to the open letter (open email?) you sent out last week (which I include in the “Read More” section at the bottom of this post), and I also thought I’d share some thoughts on the interview EMU Athletic Director Heather Lyke gave on Michigan Public Radio last Friday, April 29.

First off, let me say that I like football, I really do. I don’t love football or any sports honestly, but I do like to watch football on the weekends when it’s on, I like basketball, it’s fun to go to a Detroit Tigers game, and so forth. Second, I see the benefit of sports for students, even in college, in terms of comradery, discipline, teamwork, school spirit, and all of that stuff.  That said, I also think student athletes and their fans would get these benefits if we competed in a lower-level division or even as non-scholarship clubs. Heck, I saw these benefits for the kids when my son was playing on a soccer team in elementary school.  But I will agree there is a benefit to “the sports” in general.

Third, while the funding for sports at EMU is more lopsided than at most universities, it’s bad all over. There are only about 25 or so universities in the top division where sports is more or less a profitable or break-even proposition, and, at least according to this USA Today site on NCAA Finances, all of the schools in the MAC are subsidizing more than 50% of the cost of sports with general fund revenues. Heck, of the 231 schools listed in that USA Today page, 151 of them pay at least half the costs of stuff like football with tuition.

So yeah, in response to the HBO Real Sports special featuring EMU’s over-spending and losing ways in football, I feel your pain and I understand the administration’s and the athletic department’s desire for a full-throated defense of the program and the refusal to change. But damn, if you are going to stick to football at EMU, you need to do a better job defending it.

Your open letter, the one sent around by Loppnow et al, is completely unresponsive to the joint report presented by student government, faculty senate, and the union. I mean, I can understand why you all don’t agree with that report, but “NO NO NO NO NO NO NO” is not a counter-argument. And do some math: if we’re spending $27 million a year of tuition money on athletics, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to praise the athletic program’s success at raising $430,000 in fundraising efforts.

Then there’s that interview with Lyke. Jeesh, talk about being in a hole and thinking that the solution is to keep digging. Most of her answers were just random word salad nonsense, as in “The demand [for football] is in the belief that its a value to the university. The pride that it does bring back, and the qualities that intercollegiate athletics teaches young people, I think are irreplaceable.” Seriously, what does that mean?

I get it, there are some simple facts on the ground that are hard for Lyke to dismiss, but her inability to handle this is staggering. It turns out that the guy interviewing Lyke, Lester Graham, has a child attending EMU. At the 4:35 or so mark in that interview, Graham asks flat-out “how does my EMU student benefit” with EMU being in Division 1 athletics.

Lyke responds “What your student gets, you know… when you chose Eastern Michigan, and the time that they chose they knew they had division 1 athletics–”

“–not a factor,” Graham interrupts. “Was not a factor.”

Then Lyke, digging furiously, says something like “Correct, so it’s, um, it’s not a factor in wether or not they um they… you know, I would hope that that student find value in adding diversity to the, you know, landscape and the culture of the university. There are kids that have unbelievable talents in all sorts of things. We have an unbelievable forensics team, we have an unbelievable slam poetry team at Eastern Michigan, we have fabulous art…” and so forth.

Graham pointed out that none of these things have anything to do with support to the athletic department, and Lyke goes back to the earlier statement that we are not thinking about getting out of the MAC or football, full stop.

And then there’s this “diversity” thing, which does appear to be Lyke’s way of saying that college athletics brings a lot of African American students to EMU who otherwise wouldn’t be here. This is a particularly weird claim and it makes me think that maybe Lyke has never actually been on campus at EMU, because if you went to places on the main campus (besides the administrative building, Welch Hall, or maybe a press conference of some sort), you’d see a lot of diversity of students who have zero to do with sports.

Anyway, just to wrap this up, I’d like to make some suggestions to anyone who might be reading this.

First, if the administration, the Board of Regents, and the Lykes of the world really believe that EMU should keep spending this much money on football, then you all need to get some evidence on your side and you need to make a better argument than you’re making here. “We are going to stay in football and in the MAC because we said so” is the logic of a toddler, and people running universities and getting paid as much money as you are all being paid to do this work should know better.

If it turns out that the reason why you are all saying what you are saying is because there are no logical reasons for staying in Division 1 football (and I suspect this is the case), then I think it might be time to take a deep breath and figure out an eloquent way to exit big time sports and save face. I understand Lyke’s point about how EMU has commitments to the MAC through about 2020 so we can’t just pull the plug, but you could start talking now about the “strategic and added value” move to a different conference, to re-emphasizing different sports, and so forth.

And I have to say that if you think about this for a moment, this is potentially a huge opportunity for all of you administrators, board members, and athletic director-types. This is a chance to stand up to the “arms race” in college athletics and to finally say “enough is enough.” This is a change to do something bold, innovative, smart, and brave, and this is also a chance to truly cast EMU in a more positive light.

Finally, to the rest of the EMU community who thinks we spend too much money on sports: we can’t just let this go. If there is going to be any change at all (and that’s still a big if), we need to keep reminding whoever will listen that we’re spending too much money on this stuff. Big-time sports might make sense at the University of Michigan or Michigan State, but they don’t make sense at a place like EMU.

Thanks for reading and have a good summer,

–Steve

Continue reading

Posted in Academia, EMU, EMU-AAUP | 3 Comments

And one more thing about football: location matters

This is sort of a “PS” to the post I had the other day about EMU on HBO Sports:

The joint report issued by the Faculty Senate, the EMU-AAUP, and EMU Student Government is getting some ripples of attention in the mainstream media. I don’t know what the chances are that these efforts succeed, that EMU really does drop football entirely and instead joins a non-football conference like the Horizon League (if they would have us, I have no idea how that works), but I like that the fight is underway.

There was a good article in the Detroit Free Press by David Jesse, “EMU in the market for new league for football?” I wanted to specifically highlight this quote from the EMU-AAUP’s Howard Bunsis:

“Culturally and geographically, EMU football will simply never succeed from an attendance and financial standpoint… It is a losing proposition — always has been, and always will be. We hardly raise any money for football, and our attendance is the lowest in the country. Some of you believe that we are close to succeeding, if we just throw more money at the situation. This proposition is insane.

Another way of putting it: we live in the shadow of Big Blue.

Culturally, EMU is not entirely a “commuter campus” (because there are a lot of people who live on campus or within about five miles of it), but we definitely have a lot of students who drive in from one of the various Detroit suburbs and then go home. We also have a lot of students (maybe the majority? I’m not sure) from working-class backgrounds who are working too many hours to pay the bills. Go to any “service industry” kind of place in the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti area and I’m betting that at least 25% of the people working there are students at EMU. And we also have a lot of non-traditional students, 25+ year-olds with families and kids and the like. None of these people have time for or interest in football.

Geographically, we’re around seven miles from the University of Michigan’s campus, and if you are a college football fan– even one attending EMU– there’s a better chance you will root for the Wolverines rather than for the Emus Eagles. After all, the Wolverines are one of the most successful football programs in the history of the sport, period. Why wouldn’t you root for them? (Unless you went to Iowa as an undergraduate, but I digress).

Just to give you an example of what I mean: my son is finishing up his freshman year at the University of Michigan. He could have bought student section tickets for football before school started, but he has very little interest in sports so he passed. And yet he ended up buying tickets to a couple of the early games this last fall (when tickets are comparatively easy to get), and he’s likely to get season tickets next year. Why? “Because that’s what everyone does,” he said, “everyone” meaning all of the people he has been hanging out with in his dorm.

The culture at Michigan is essentially the opposite of EMU. You’re an “outsider” oddball if you take no interest in things like football there. Even very very casual fans like my son get swept up in the excitement of it all. Plus the students who attend the University of Michigan are the most traditional of traditional college students: 18-22 year olds from upper-middle class/wealthy backgrounds who are all living very near to campus and who generally have a lot of free-time on their hands.

The point is it’s not just that EMU can’t compete in the MAC; it can’t compete in the neighborhood.

Update: Just to give you an idea about how seriously the administration and the Board of Regents is taking the recommendation of this report from the faculty and the students, here’s a copy of an open letter to the EMU community:

Open letter to the Eastern Michigan University
campus community, alumni, friends and supporters

In the past several days, there has been considerable media coverage of reports that indicate that Eastern Michigan University is considering eliminating football, or reducing support for football by dropping down to a lower division of the NCAA and by dropping out of the Mid-American Conference. These reports are not based on any solid factual information. We have absolutely no plans to eliminate football or move into any other division or conference.

We are pleased to be a member of an outstanding conference, the Mid-American Conference, where all of our sports and our talented student athletes have the opportunity to compete at the highest levels with neighboring institutions in the Midwest. Any headlines or claims that Eastern is considering dropping football, or reducing our support of the program in any way, are false.

We are 100 percent supportive of our current Athletics administration, particularly Vice President of Intercollegiate Athletics Heather Lyke. She has assembled an outstanding support team and we already have seen positive results in terms of continuing Eastern’s championship traditions in a number of our sports, as well as in many new initiatives to increase revenues. As an example, year-to-date, fundraising has increased by nearly $430,000.

Two-and-a-half years ago, she hired an outstanding football coach in Chris Creighton. Now entering his third year and with the majority of the team now made up of his recruits, we believe the best is ahead in terms of on the field and academic performance. We believe very strongly in Coach Creighton and his efforts to rebuild the program.

We want to collectively reiterate that any notion, suggestion, or headline that in any way suggests Eastern is considering eliminating football or moving into another conference or division, is absolutely false. We will remain proud members of the Mid-American Conference football family for a long, long time.

Sincerely,

Interim President Donald Loppnow
President-Elect James Smith
Mike Morris, Chair, Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents
Mary Treder Lang, Vice Chair, Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents
Michael Hawks, Chair, Athletic Affairs Committee, Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents
Dennis Beagen, Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents
Michelle Crumm, Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents
Beth Fitzsimmons, Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents
James Stapleton, Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents
James Webb, Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents

Posted in EMU, EMU-AAUP, Ypsi-Arbor | Leave a comment

EMU is the poster child for spending on college sports out of control on HBO Real Sports Ep 229: “College Costs”


Once again, EMU is is the poster child for out of control spending in sports, this time on the HBO show Real Sports in a story reported by a guy named John Frankel. Eastern comes out looking pretty bad, and in reality, I think the actual situation right now is even worse.

While the trailer suggests this is mainly about Eastern, the episode is at least as much (if not more) about Rutgers in New Jersey. They’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars right now in order to buy their way into contention in the Big Ten (which, logically, is now 14 universities). In the last 12 years (at least according to the guy they interview in the show), Rutgers has lost over $300 million on college sports. Making matters all the worse is Rutgers has spent a ton of money on coaches that they’ve had to fire and buy out. Though one thing Rutgers potentially has going for it is since they are the enormous flagship university for the state of New Jersey, they might be able to pay off a lot of that debt thanks to alumni and just being a part of the Big Ten.

And they also talk to the president of Paul Quinn College, Michael Sorrell, and how they gave up on football. I think Sorrell makes great arguments and I love the fact that they turned their football field into a small farm/enormous garden to grow food for campus, but given that Paul Quinn College has under 300 students, I think the comparison between it and Rutgers and EMU is pretty thin.

Those problems with this report aside, it does captures a lot of what is going on at EMU and what has been going on here for years. HBO interviewed EMU professor and EMU-AAUP former president/former treasurer (I’m actually not sure what his role in the union is right now) Howard Bunsis. According to Frankel (and I guess Howard), EMU has lost $52 million in athletics in the last two years. “For all the spending, Eastern Michigan has not had a winning football season in 20 years. It’s lone claim to fame? It draws the smallest attendance of any team in all of top tier division one football. Yet this year, the team outfitted the team in three different helmets and three different uniforms, and paid its coach more than anyone else on campus.”

They did an interview/feature of a student named Kelly Adams, someone they described as a “non-traditional student,” which is of course a pretty typical student at EMU. I’m not sure she added a lot to the discussion other than to put a name and a face with what I think is a pretty typical student at EMU.

And Frankel interviewed Interim President Donald Loppnow, and his answers were pretty, um, bad. Frankel asked about Ramone Williams, the EMU student who was in the news in late 2015/early 2016 because he was homeless, living more or less in campus buildings and in his car. Loppnow said something like “a lot of our students have difficult circumstances.” Then Frankel asked about the EMU Food Pantry that has opened up– I think just this last semester. It went like this:

“And how much funding does Eastern Michigan provide for the food pantry?”  Frankel asked.

“At this point it’s strictly through donations, but we’re looking at building it into ongoing service.” Loppnow said.

“So that’s zero.”

“I wish that we could do a lot lot more to address these needs.”

“But you’ve got the money, you’re just spending it in a place that isn’t helping those in need.”

“I understand what you’re saying” said a visibly uncomfortable Loppnow. “It’s part of the overall debate, and frankly, we will be funding these areas that you indicated.”

Mark Maynard has a good post here where he quotes from a long news story where EMU Regent Jim Stapleton claimed that the board was looking at “everything,” including football. The Freep has a story here with the predictable “not planning on cutting athletics but all option are on the table,” but at the same time maintaining the idea that participating in division one athletics is an “investment” by the university. MLive followed with a story of its own and the usual hater of all things EMU comments.

But here’s what all these stories are leaving out and why I’d argue this situation is even worse:

EMU is in the midst of a budget crisis. It’s been a rumor for a long time and was the subject of an email from none other than Interim President Loppnow earlier this week where he announced that there wouldn’t be across the board but “strategic” budget cuts across all units.

What the EMU administration hasn’t been talking about is this current budget crisis is essentially a self-inflicted wound. It’s not a result of cuts from the state– that funding I believe has been fairly stable or slightly rising for few years– but rather the result of everyone on the Board of Regents and in Welch Hall believing the unrealistic projections in terms of enrollment and tuition dollars that were being presented by President Susan Martin and Provost Kim Schatzel. Well, now these two– both of whom come out of business backgrounds, mind you– are long gone: Martin retired, and Schatzel wrapped up her term as provost/interim president in December and is now the president at Towson University in Maryland.

So, what we’re looking at here is a financial crisis that is the result of bad management by the university’s top leaders and negligent oversight by the board. Maybe this latest of many stories about money pit that is athletics at EMU will truly make the powers that be take a “hard look” at the football team and such. More likely, the new president and the BoR will double-down on football, and we’ll be cutting past bone in academics yet again in the name of looking at “everything” and making “strategic” cuts.

And do not even get me started on the DID crap! (Though I’ll be blogging about once the dust there has settled…)

Update:

There was a joint report issued by the EMU Faculty Senate, the EMU-AAUP, and EMU Student Government about the budget woes at EMU and the ridiculousness of EMU athletic spending. I uploaded it as a slideshare.net document here. Lots of charts and graphs, and the recommendation is EMU ought to get out of the MAC and join the Horizon league which doesn’t require us to be in football.

 

Posted in EMU, EMU-AAUP | 4 Comments