New Year's Resolutions

Today’s the first day of classes here at EMU. Since I don’t teach today, my original plan was to actually not be at school today, but it turns out that I have a Faculty Council meeting I need to attend. Oh well; summer is over.

I’ve thought of the beginning of the school year as the beginning of “the year” pretty much my whole life and certainly since I started teaching 17 years ago. Jeesh, 17 years ago. I was a graduate assistant back then. I was 22 years old in an MFA creative writing program at Virginia Commonwealth University, teaching first year composition about three or four months after I finished my BA. Ah, memories….

Anyway, since I’m at the beginning of the new year, I thought it might be good to make some new year’s resolutions (and I also thought that if I made them here, I might stick to them, too). So here they are, more or less in this order:

  • Get into shape. This might seem like the sort of thing I would mention on my unofficial blog, but I mention it here because I have an academic schedule this term that allows me few excuses for getting exercise and I really do want to make losing some weight and being a bit more healthy my top priority this semester.
  • Figure out this online teaching stuff. So far, so good, though I haven’t seen any activity on my online class yet. It’s pretty early though. And one of the things I am going to have to figure out for sure this year for my online teaching is podcasting and (possibly) screencasting, too. I just found out my CCCCs proposal was accepted; it’s called (right now) “Broadcast Composition : Using Podcasts to Build Community and Connections in Online Writing Classes,” and for the time-being, it’s going to be about using things like podcasting and other “lower-end” multimedia to supplement my online teaching. But that could change and evolve.
  • Read. I have mentioned this in the recent past on my blog, but basically, I am (more or less and/or one way or the other) finished with my textbook project, I am (more or less and/or one way or the other) pretty much off of the job market, and I have therefore reached a point in my career where I don’t have to produce scholarship in order to participate in that “academic game.” So, for a while at least, I think I’m going to become mainly a consumer of scholarship and read, both current scholarship and some of the things before.
  • Blog. And despite what Ivan Tribble said again, I stand by what I said back in July: While he did have some valid points, I think blogging can help someone on the job market and I think it helps those of us who are more “established” in academic careers too. To read more about Tribble II, I’d suggest reading Collin’s entry about this. By the way: it occurs to me that it is a little– I don’t know, strange/funny/ironic — that Tribble in this article seems to think that blogging under one’s own name can be okay and yet he’s sticking to his pseduonym here. Hmmm…..

My Freshman Day (sorta…)

I participated in a freshman orientation session yesterday morning at EMU. Basically, the session I lead was about “life in the classroom,” and my job was to give them a sense about what classroom life was like in 50 minutes or less. Needless to say, I didn’t manage to accomplish that; I think they’ll actually have to start going to class before they can figure out for themselves what it means to be a “college student.”

I was able to work through an explanation of the handout they give to students, which has sections about things like the need to attend class, reading the syllabus, appropriate class conduct, not cheating, where to get tutoring help, etc. I guess it was useful for them. I mean, all of this stuff strikes me as common sense, but of course, what counts as “common sense” depends on the community that you are in. For example, a couple of students asked about this thing called a “syllabus” and about books (“How am I supposed to know what books to get for my classes?”). Questions that definitely mark these kids as “new.”

And I should point out that they were “kids.” We have a lot of “non-traditional” students at EMU, but as far as I could tell, all of these students were right out of high school and getting ready to live in the dorms, away from home for the first time ever. Most of these students were born around 1987, and this makes me feel quite old. Given that I was in my junior year in college back in ’87, it is no longer a stretch to say that I’m old enough to be the father of these kids. Yikes.

Anyway, while a lot of the questions these future students had about the classroom struck me as simplistic and obvious, I was also struck by how little I knew about the part of EMU that they inhabit on a day-to-day basis. Maybe I’m thinking about this now because I am reading the excellent book My Freshman Year by Rebekah “not her real name” Nathan, which is about an anthropology professor who enrolls as a freshman to research the life of college students the same way that studied other “distant and foreign” cultures. I haven’t come close to finishing reading it yet, but early on, Nathan talks about how different the university looks to her as a student than it did as a college professor. Among other things, she means this in a basic geographic sense: Nathan talks about how as a faculty member, she was able to park and thus enter the buildings where she worked from a particular vantage point. But as a student, especially living in the dorms, the university had a completely different geography, one that she found disorienting and confusing.

I experienced a little bit of that confusion myself on Sunday. While most of the orientation session I led was on “my turf” of the classroom, the students also asked about things having to do with meal plans, some dorm life issues, and registering for classes. There were two “student leaders” in my group, college juniors and seniors who were hired to usher around the new freshman, and I’m glad they were there. I had no clue about the questions these students were asking, and I found some of the answers surprising– the meal plan that students buy works everywhere except Wendy’s in the union, for example.

I could go on, and I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised that what the university looks like is different based on one’s point of view. But I guess I was just struck by how very different this place seems to look to students than it looks to me. Something worth thinking about as I get ready to actually teach….

I am NOT even CLOSE to ready

Because I’ve been awfully busy with “life in general” and my textbook project in particular this summer, and also because I’m doing quite a number of new things in my teaching this fall, I am unusually ill-prepared for the upcoming term.

How ill-prepared, you ask? Here’s an embarassaing example:

I emailed my classes just the other day to tell them that while I didn’t have a syllabus and class schedule ready and available online, I could tell them what books they needed to order. Increasingly, I find that my students are doing what I consider to be the smart thing and buying their books online instead of dealing with the local textbook stores, which (IMO) are inefficient and over-priced.

I’m teaching two sections of a class I teach all the time here at EMU, “Writing, Style, and Technology:” one that is online (and that has represented its own preparation “challenges”) and one that I thought was on Tuesday nights. In fact, I was so certain I was teaching on Tuesday nights that I made all my plans around Tuesdays, I had told everyone I was teaching on Tuesdays, and, as I said in my email to my students in this section, “I’ll see you on Tuesday night in a couple weeks.” This wasn’t even a question in my mind.

One of my near-future students emailed me back and said something along the lines of “gee, I have this class down for Thursday nights; did they change the day of the class?” At first, I was going to email this student right back to correct this student. But I decided to double-check the class schedule online and what-do-ya-know, I was wrong. And had this student not emailed me, I wouldn’t have showed up to class for the first meeting and I would have arrived on Tuesday and said “gosh, where is everyone?”

Jeesh. Quite the bumpy start here….

Teaching Online at EMU: The Learning Curves

Despite the fact that I’ve been involved in using technology to teach writing for a long time now, I’ve never taught an online class before, at least before this semester. There are a variety of reasons for this, but the big one for me is that at EMU, these courses are offered through Continuing Education and they tend to staff them with faculty who teach the courses as overloads. I wasn’t willing to do that, but then (for a variety of different reasons that really aren’t that interesting anyway) I was told that I could teach an online class as part of my “regular” teaching load after all and I’m going to start teaching one online class on in a couple of weeks.

After both procrastinating and working on other things I needed to do this summer, I’m finally starting to get my online class together. EMU Online uses eCollege to support their online classes, and eCollege is pretty decent software. I have some issues with it (see below), but it sure as heck is better than WebCT, which I tried to use for another class back in January. Incidentally, there’s actually some campus politics surrounding this because there are “forces” around here who want us to use WebCT to teach online. My hope is that the pro-WebCT people lose this battle.

So far, I’ve got three observations:

  • Once again, I am reminded that a little HTML goes a long LONG way. Every once in a while, I encounter colleagues at EMU or online or at a conference or whatever who say that there’s no real point in learning or teaching basic HTML skills, in part because software like Dreamweaver makes it easy to avoid messing with the code. And you can get away with not using an HTML with eCollege, too. But it sure helps to know at least the basics of HTML.
  • Despite what I do know about HTML and CSS and other computer geek things, I still have to get over a learning curve to make this software work, at least work for me. eCollege isn’t nearly as frustrating as WebCT, but it’s frustrating enough.
  • eCollege (and just about every other software I’ve seen for teaching online) isn’t really designed to teach a writing course, at least the way I tend to teach writing classes. This is kind of hard for me to explain just now, but I guess what I’m getting at is this: eCollege seems to me to assume that a college course is made up of individual units which students work through, more or less independently, and then take a test about to demonstrate knowledge. Sure, there’s plenty of opportunities for interaction between students and between the instructor with the software, but it doesn’t seem that easy to me to exchange drafts of essays in small groups. Of course, that might be just because I’m missing something in the instructions for how to do this.

Oh, and eCollege supports streaming audio and video. I still think I’m just going to upload mp3 files weekly or so. Eventually, I’m going to figure out how to post a “real” podcast for this class– one with an RSS feed and the whole bit– but I probably won’t publish it as part of the eCollege shell.

Howdy, EMU Student Government!

Just last night (actually, it looks like the middle of the night– those students) I had a comment on my post about OS 10.4 asking me to link to the EMU Student Government blog. Consider it done, Bobby! I think it’s a good idea for the student government to have a blog space like this– I wish the faculty council would do the same thing, though I’m not expecting it anytime soon.

The NCAA and Native American Mascots (or, "Go Emus!")

This isn’t a new story, but on Friday afternoon, I heard this story on “All Things Considered” about Florida State University’s battle to save “The Seminoles” as the team mascot/nickname. As you might have heard, the NCAA “has adopted a new policy that prohibits colleges and universities from displaying hostile and abusive racial/ethnic/national origin mascots, nicknames or imagery at any of the 88 NCAA championships.” (Or so says the Seattle Post-Intelligencer).

I think this issue is interesting for at least two reasons:

  • As the NPR story indicated, there is a kind of fuzzy line between “appropriate” and “inappropriate” use of Native American mascot names. There are some that probably need to change– the Carthage College “Redmen” and the Southeastern Oklahoma State University “Savages” are probably two good examples of names that I think cross the line (and for what it’s worth, I think pro football’s Washington “Redskins” ought to go mascot-shopping, too). There are some that strike me as fairly neutral, really– “braves” and “indians,” for example. And then there are some– the FSU “Seminoles” and, in more local news, the Central Michigan University “Chippewas”– that are a) named after real Native American tribes, and b) actually have at least some support from representatives of said tribes. I’m not going to pretend to know the answer, but I think it’s interesting– maybe even a bit odd– that the NCAA has just decided across the board that all of these names are wrong, and yet, as the Post-Intelligencer and other articles suggest, the NCAA has also decided to let some Native American names stand because the schools have “good intentions.”
  • The whole issue of Native American mascots was an issue just before my time here at Eastern Michigan University. See, some time in the early to mid 1990’s (I’m not exactly sure when), EMU changed its mascot name from “The Hurons” (a Native American tribe, and also the name of a river) to “The Eagles.” I mostly (see below) don’t care; I mean, my undergraduate institution (and the college team I still cheer for) is still known as “The Hawkeyes,” both a mythical bird and a Native American character in The Last of the Mohicans (not to mention everyone’s favorite doctor on M*A*S*H). But there are groups here, such as Huron Restoration Alumni Chapter, that seem to care a great deal. I’ve even seen some young people at EMU football games dressed up in mock Native American garb yelling “GO HURONS!” as our football team plays (and, in recent years, generally loses). Kind of an ugly display, but mostly a pathetic one.
  • I understand the name change away from “The Hurons,” but frankly, I’ve always thought that “The Eagles” is kind of lame and generic. It’s clearly a name that was thought up by some sort of marketing group, and a group who wanted to pick a mascot that caused absolutely no controversy. I think changing the mascot name to “the Eagles” was the epitome of “lost opportunity.” Just think about it: students could have taken a vote and we could have ended up with a cool name, like the UC-Irvine Anteaters did. If we had done that, maybe we could have ended up with a mascot both fun and completely logical:

    That’s right: The EMU Emus!

    C’mon, can’t you see the kid on the field dressed up in an emu costume? Can’t you hear the crowd yelling “GO EMUS, GO!!” I can even imagine how the local sportscaster could give us the nickname “the big birds” or something like that.

    Ah, missed opportunities…

(Thanks to gustavoG for the image on flickr, btw).

EMU hikes tuition, which might not be such a bad idea….

I just heard on WEMU public radio (and then I found it posted in this press release) that EMU is going to raise tuition 13.5%. Oh, and once again, new prez John Fallon has taken to the WEMU airways to plead his case, something that Kirkpatrick never did.

Now, the down-side of this for students is pretty obvious, and I do agree (in part, at least) with the EMU-AAUP, which is the faculty union: before we raise tuition, the institution ought to cut administrative folks.

But I have to say that this particular tuition increase is probably a good idea, and I think it signals positive things about Fallon. Here’s why:

  • It could have been much MUCH worse. Like I wrote about in this post, Central Michigan raised their tuition 19%, and I’m pretty sure that every other university in the state raised their tuition, too. U of M raised theirs 12.3% and MSU raised their 9.3%, and I think most of the regional schools were somewhere between EMU’s 13.5% and CMU’s 19%.
  • EMU is still a bargain, relatively speaking. According to the press release, “a typical resident undergraduate student will pay $6,540 for 30 credit hours.” Over at that quaint liberal arts college in Ann Arbor (and I’m not talking about Concordia), tuition is around $9,300 for in-state students for the same number of credit hours. (As an aside: when I started at the University of Iowa in 1984, tuition was just over $1000 for the year. When I finished in 1988, tuition was about $1,000 a semester, quite an increase in four years, but a heck of a lot cheaper than tuition now…).
  • Most significantly, a good chunk of this tuition increase is going to go toward a bond to borrow something like $80-100 million for a “classroom facility improvement fund.” What that means is that EMU might finally do something about two very large classroom buildings, Mark-Jefferson (where they teach science classes) and Pray-Harrold (which is where the English department offices and classes are taught, along with a bunch of other classes).

I know there are problems in Mark-Jefferson, but I know the problems in Pray-Harrold more intimately, and I can say with some certainty that it is the among the crappiest academic buildings in this country. I have serious reservations about what “refurbishing” this building might mean. If I were in charge and had no budget concerns, I’d recommend tearing it down and constructing three or four different buildings. I doubt seriously they’ll do that. And I must say that I am not looking forward to the year or two or three of enduring the construction in Pray-Harrold. Lord only knows what that will mean– living in trailers, or, worse yet, trying to work in Pray-Harrold while construction is going on inside the building. But personally, I’m willing to endure a lot if it means having something less crappy than Pray-Harrold for the future.

When might this happen? Well, on WEMU just now, when Fallon was asked “will incoming freshmen see these changes to Mark-Jefferson and Pray-Harrold in their time at EMU?” Fallon responded “Oh, absolutely. This is going to be on the fastest track possible.”

Looks like I might have to pack up the books and snow globes in my office this semester….

Granholm "blasts" tuition hikes; refuses to believe you cannot get something for nothing

I heard this story on WEMU this morning, and I found a link to a written version on mlive, “Granholm blasts tuition hikes.” For the non-Michiganders reading this blog, let me catch you up:

The Granholm in question here is Jennifer Granholm, the governor of Michigan. On the one hand, Granholm (who is a Democrat, by the way) wants to increase college attendance in the state– she’s said a couple of times that she wants everyone in the state to have the opportunity for some sort of higher education, be that an undergraduate degree, associate’s degree, some kind of community college training, etc. On the other hand, she keeps cutting funding to higher education in the state, saying stuff like this:

While acknowledging that what she once called “fat” had already been cut from university budgets, Granholm insisted schools could do more.

“We all know the state has cut funding, but the state has cut funding everywhere,” Granholm said.

Last year (and I don’t remember all the details about this), Granholm promised to not to cut funding to state universities beyond a particular percentage if the universities agreed to not raise tuition too much. The universities (including EMU) held their part of the deal, but the governor’s office didn’t. Here’s what’s happening this year:

Granholm is proposing a 2-percent cut in state aid to universities for fiscal 2006 and wants Michigan’s 15 public universities to hold their tuition increases to inflation for a second straight year.

After four years of state aid reductions, however, officials at the University of Michigan and Michigan State University said they had no choice but to raise the price of undergraduate education. U-M regents approved a tuition increase of 12.3 percent for state residents. MSU trustees approved a 9.3 percent tuition and fee increase for most in-state students.

In a tuition guarantee plan approved last week, Central Michigan University will charge incoming freshmen 19 percent more than last year, with lesser increases for upper classmen. Credit hour rates would be capped for as long as the student is enrolled, up to six years.

As I understand it, Wayne State is going to raise tuition around 19 or 18 percent; I had heard that EMU was going to go up 10 percent, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this news didn’t prompt a higher increase. The way I see it, the state universities are simply responding (correctly, I’m afraid) from the messages they are getting from the state. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

Bizarrely, this is setting up a situation where the Republicans are able to look like “the higher education party.” For example:

“(Granholm) cut university funding and now she’s lamenting tuition increases,” said Sen. Michael Goschka, R-Brant, who chairs the higher education budget committee in the Senate. “Part of the reason for the tuition increases is because higher education hasn’t been a priority for her.”

This comment strikes me as extremely accurate and reasonable.

Look, I understand the complexities of the problem here, I really do. The state of Michigan is in the proverbial crapper right now: high unemployment, too much heavy industry, the auto industry is sluggish, etc., etc. Plus the previous (Republican) governor more or less handed Granholm a pretty awful situation tax-wise. She needs to raise taxes, but politically, that would be suicide. So it’s no wonder that Granholm is literally saying that she doesn’t want the state to actually pay for higher education, but she wants it to be there as a financially affordable option for citizens.

It’s an ugly situation, and I hope it is one the state reverses soon. My first job was in Oregon at Southern Oregon University. That school was chronically under-funded (still is, as I understand it), and because the funding from the state was so minimal, SOU was nearly completely “self-funded,” as if it were a private school. The problem is you can’t run a private school on tuition fees that are attempting to be affordable.

In my two years there in the mid 1990s, the result was a “financial crisis” each winter, one where there were rumors of layoffs of faculty and other cuts. These things didn’t happen (and the old-timers claimed the so-called “crisis” was present every year), and for all kinds of different reasons, I don’t see EMU laying off tenure-track faculty. But I really hope that people like Granholm look at situations in Oregon as an example of what not to do with higher education.

Maybe he can play basketball for us, too….

John Fallon, the new EMU president, starts work today. There was an article about him in the Sunday Ann Arbor News (login required… I think…) which was largely a fluff piece on what a great guy Fallon is. Among his other charms, he can shoot the three:

Fallon is athletic, trim and playful. At Potsdam [SUNY Potsdam, that is, where he was the president before coming here], he even dueled a local TV sportscaster in a 3-point shootout at half-time of a Potsdam game. Fallon won, earning the chance to do a live TV sportscast.

“He kept his poise and was funny,” said the sportscaster, Mel Busler of WWNY-TV in Watertown, who jokes that Fallon hustled him by warming up at a nearby gym.

Said Fallon: “I would refer to it as preparation, good sense and planning.”

In fact, as I type this, he’s talking on WEMU, which is our local public radio station (NPR, local news, jazz, and blues– check it out). A bit more of a fuzzy/honeymoon piece– Fallon even repeated a few lines from the newspaper article, including one about “taking the rear-view mirror off the university,” which is short-hand for “let’s not talk about the house anymore.”

He did say in this interview something like “The opportunity for education takes place between students and faculty. Period. The rest of us are here in support roles.” The right thing to say, but not as easy of a platitude to make real.

A couple of thoughts to add to all this:

  • EMU has lots of problems– we’re poor and getting poorer because of decreased funding from the state, we have buildings that are literally falling apart around us, enrollment is down, etc., etc.– but, if you ask me, Fallon is walking into a tremendous job situation. The immediate past president, Craig Willis, was just a place holder, though he was a pretty good place holder. The real “past president” was the infamous Sam Kirkpatrick, who did a pretty good job of almost driving the place into the ground with stupid projects like the “University House.” So, with Kirkpatrick as a point of comparison, there’s really very little the new guy can do to screw up. It’s always easy to start a job when the person you are replacing didn’t do a very good job.
  • The “word on the street” is that Fallon’s strengths are as a fund raiser and as creative developer of “revenue streams,” so to speak. As I understand it, one of the “revenue streams” Fallon started at SUNY-Potsdam is some kind of “health education facility.” I hope this doesn’t mean that EMU becomes even more “business-like” and I hope we don’t start going into some other “business” other than the one we’re in, but it wouldn’t be a bad thing to have someone who was able to raise money for the school. The previous three (well, two, since Willis doesn’t really count) couldn’t do that.
  • I for one don’t want Fallon to completely ignore that rear-view mirror for at least two reasons. First, we always learn from our past, and Fallon could learn a lot about what not to do from studying Kirkpatrick and a bit of Bill Shelton, too. Second, I think there are still people working in the administration at EMU who had a part in the whole house mess, people who were able to walk away and keep their jobs. Fallon ought to worry about these people and make sure they really have changed the way they are doing business.
  • I remain cautiously optimistic about Fallon. As I wrote back in March, a Google search of “‘John Fallon’ controversy” doesn’t return any meaningful results. That’s a good thing.

Did you miss me? (A round-up of what I have clearly missed….)

We’re back in town after a family trip out west (which was a lot of fun). I’m actually only going to be here a couple of days before leaving again, but it’s nice to be home just for a bit, awake from sleeping in my own bed, and sitting here and drinking my own coffee at my own desk.

Anyway, here’s kind of a round-up post of some of the things that I have appeared to have missed:

  • There’s a “textual carnival” reading of Richard Fulkerson’s “Composition at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century,” from the June 2005 (56.4) issue of College Composition and Communication. My guess is that my copy of the CCCs is in the held mail that won’t arrive here until tomorrow at the earliest. Oh well, I’ll catch up on that one later. I’ll link here to Clancy’s entry on this, but Collin, Jenny, Derek and probably others have posted on this bit as well.
  • There was an article published on the Inside Higher Ed site called “Collegiality — the Tenure Track’s Pandora’s Box” by Mary McKinney. McKinney– who isn’t a tenure-track academic herself (I don’t think) but a psychologist who “coaches” people seeking tenure (?)– is basically suggesting that people seeking tenure ought to work hard at getting along with co-workers. Wow, shocking advice. Nowhere in the article does she point out that a) to get tenure, you should first and foremost do the work required by that particular institution because being the nicest person in the world who doesn’t do the work in terms of scholarship, teaching, and service will still not get tenure; b) the standards for tenure vary wildly, so the tenure-seeking faculty member should inquire about the local standards and not pay as much attention to the “lore” of things like “publish or perish;” c) the idea that one should “try to get along with your co-workers” merely reminds us that being a college faculty member is a lot like actually having a job; and, finally d) McKinney (and the many folks who comment on this) doesn’t mention the fact that (according to the AAUP, I think) something like 90% of folks who apply for tenure actually get it so you shouldn’t stress it too much.
  • I’ve gotten some good feedback from folks on my Chronicle article, which has been nice. The EMU PR folks reported my publication in a mass email to people and they described the CHE as an “international” publication. Well, I don’t know about that, but it’s nice to now that the PR people must obviously read CHE…. Oh, and thanks a bunch to Bob, who sent me a PDF version of my article, which I’ll post here for now and on that other entry later.
  • Jeff and Jenny have been doing a little urban pioneering in Detroit as of late.
  • The TV fan in me enjoyed this post and this post at Johndan’s blog.
  • Mike has a belated post about some of what he saw at the Computers and Writing Conference. He’s excused for being late, though; he’s been working on his dissertation….
  • Dr. B. seems frustrated about this gaming conference she went to. From what she reports, I would be too.

I’m sure there’s more, but that’s enough to go look at for the time-being. Besides, I have to get ready to go to the July 4 parade.