David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
How To Piss Off A CAO (in 10 easy steps and in just 5 days)

March 25, 2022

This week was budget hearing week, 8-hour days spent hearing from 22 institutional units about their budget needs, and, overall, strategies for the coming year.  These presented at a time when public funding for higher education, especially at the community college level, keeps getting cut.  A Chief Academic Officer sits in those meetings with little reprieve, as every department somehow impacts the teaching and learning environment.  Aided by too much chocolate, I probably started to let my frustration and exhaustion get to me. The on-going joke has been that Fleming was trying to find a way to get fired and take the rest of Cabinet with him. The truth of the matter is that in 4 short days, the greater academic world colluded to put me in a tizzy. In the end, the week was a microcosm of a user's manual to piss off a provost.

Please note that these are the steps to piss off a Community College Chief Academic Officer; I am sure my colleagues at the 4-years follow a much different manual.

Step 1: Start by defining "college level" from the very perspective that makes the ignorant scream that we need more kids to get into the trades and not go to college.  You get a degree in many trades by going to college, usually your local community college that can offer you a certificate (one-year) or an Associate of Applied Science degree (two-years).  With developmental (remedial) courses on the perpetual chopping block, we are constantly being hounded to do away with stand-alone developmental courses so that students can get more quickly into their "college-level" math or English course and thus be more likely to graduate.  Completely noble cause, I get it. Just don't complain when society starts to question the quality of these graduates.

More importantly, however, in my Associate of Applied Science programs we have math courses that suffice for our advisory committees from our applicable trades, meaning that they are college level for those associate degrees. They don't count in this debate, though. The exact same course is o.k. here but needs to be redesigned elsewhere.

Step 2: Send out through 1 of the 2 leading higher education websites (Inside Higher Ed) the same flawed survey requesting feedback from CAOs all over the country.  The survey is always done through Hanover Research, who frequently calls asking to work with SMC.  The fact that they still can't fathom that the following is one essential flaw in their survey drives me crazy. Recognize that just seconds before, I had been asked to identify what kind of college I work at (meaning, I could choose "at a two-year college"). I also can’t continue unless I answer every question.

$10 to the first developmental math student who can identify the flaw in this question.

(I have had other frustrations with the survey, articulated in the past, and still prevalent in this year’s. All, again, seem to ignore the diversity of all colleges.)

Step 3: Promote through the 2nd of the leading higher education websites (The Chronicle of Higher Ed) a tool with accompanying analysis of how institutions identify their peers (and whether those institutions see you as a peer).  Fail to note that the tool doesn't include community colleges, apparently because we are not aspirational and are just the holding tank for the masses of the unwashed.

Step 4: Put really interesting industry-related studies and columns behind a paywall (as The Chronicle of Higher Ed does) so that people (institutions) have to pay to see the information. In an era where higher education is seen as too costly and thus dramatically underfunded, this is morally repugnant. To be fair, this has pissed me off for years, so Step 4 is a gimme.

Step 5: In the midst of all this external stimuli, sprinkle throughout the days infernal jargon (commflow, merch, badges, CRM, CTE, EMC, swag, C-PAS, wayfinding, onboarding, compliance, access points, switches, fire panels, etc.) to remind us how much of our work is not really about student learning.

Step 6: Ask us to step out of our StuporMan cape and put on our Green Lanyard cape in the middle of budget hearings to talk to potential students and parents.  I am lucky I could put a sentence together that didn't have a random four-letter word.

Step 7: Make obvious that at such recruitment events, only students can be found to promote programs that we are advocating for when we put the StuporMan cape back on.

Step 8: Provide policy from the accrediting body that makes even more onerous the publication of student achievement data. Saying from a "broad variety of student populations and its programs" is a bit broad for institutions that, see previous point, are seen as the holding tanks for the masses of the unwashed.

Step 9: Do Step 8 merely a week from the annual conference with the accrediting body. The Chicago Art Museum looks more and more like a place I will go to escape.

Step 10: Make clear that the work not gotten done this week still needs to be crammed into future weeks. Luckily it really isn't that important. Just evaluations.

I give this blog a "needs improvement."